What's Tony Thinking

Travel: The Other Journey


It is summer and so the traditional season for travel. Of course, people travel now in all seasons. And not just the retired. Travel is huge.

Like most people, I enjoy taking a trip. We had a splendid visit in Toronto last month. We look forward to a trip to North Wales, the English Lake District (from which some of my ancestors came) and the Hebrides Islands of Scotland in the fall.

Still, it seems to me that these journeys to other lands and cultures shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow another journey. That journey requires no passport and not much money.

It is the journey within. Into our own lives, our own hearts, into our own shadows. Sometimes the catalyst for this journey can be something hard or painful. A loss, a failure, a break-down of one sort or another. But at least sometimes “breakdowns” lead to “break throughs.”

Several years ago I wrote this little poem:

When I Retire

I don’t want to travel
to Macchu Picchu or Tibet or Turkey

I want to stay here
in my life
with the stuff of it
even the stuff
I’d rather travel away from

I want to visit my own soul,
my own deep places
the dark streets
sunny squares

And if I discover I have no deep places of my own,
what then?

Then, I guess I’ll travel

The poem relies on a false distinction, that the journey out and the journey in are entirely separate.

Of course, that isn’t true. For many travel is a way of inner growth and exploration, even testing.

I mentioned that I am reading Our Towns: A 100,000 mile Journey Into the Heart of America by James and Deborah Fallows. The Fallows stand, self-consciously, in a long line of travelers (De Tocqueville, Steinbeck, Heat-Moon) who have “gone to look for America,” in Paul Simon’s lyrical phrase. Their journeys are simultaneously outward and inward.

Still, I sometimes wonder if all the trips and global adventures many of us take, especially in retirement, can become a substitute for the work and adventure of that other journey, the journey within.

One place where I have experienced people taking the inner journey is in 12-Step or Recovery groups. While such groups provide structure and support, each person is there to do his or her own work. That work includes facing one’s wounds and flaws, being honest with yourself and others, and learning to rely on a power not your own, a Higher Power.

I’ve often wished that churches had more of the 12-Step/ Recovery experience built in; that people really had the safety and encouragment to work on our own stuff. “We all got stuff,” as my friend Ron Buford says. Often in the church, however, we focus on other people’s stuff, rather than our own.

Still, some of this is happening in churches these days. Molly Baskette’s Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession is a report on one congregation’s amazing work in this regard.

I turn 70 this summer. The aforementioned trip to England and Scotland is, at least in part, a birthday present. But I see this time of life as also, and in a particular way, a time for the inner journey, for doing my own work of honesty, of healing, of growing in God and in grace.

Because as the old and ironic saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Blessings on all your journeys!




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