To wherever your feet carry you

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By Sharline J. Bareng

“…in the mind of a woman for whom no place is home, the thought of an end to all flight is unbearable.” - Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

TO CONFESS an inability to do a lot of traveling, in the same way that one can read only a few books or produce only a few modest works is a shame, especially in this age when everything is doable and nothing is a valid excuse.

A writer said traveling is a “deep human need” because it widens perspectives and frees one from the familiar with every step taken away from home. It becomes a greater need especially when one seeks self-development that can take form in art. Many talented people insist that travel is essential to art, especially if art is supposed to be free and limitless. Writers such as Jose Rizal and F. Sionil Jose are considered proofs of this claim.

Take a look around you. You might spot a stranger sitting on a bench at some park, writing on a notebook. He could be a traveler, a stranger to the city you’ve known all your life. To him, this city is unfamiliar, and every sight he takes in is a new experience. That may be enough reason for him to write in the middle of a city where no one stops to take in the details that might give new meaning to a place so common to many.

***

I am bothered because I haven’t responded well to the need to travel, one that is supposed to nurture an aspiring writer. That is, not counting the family trips to Laguna, Baguio, and Pampanga, school-related outings to Batangas, Tagaytay, Ternate, and Pangasinan, and a one-time journey to Nauhan and Puerto Galera in Mindoro. Anyone can say that that isn’t much—apparently, I haven’t seen even a quarter of the country.

It may be safe to say that I am too young to be bothered by such a predicament. With barely a month left in college, the prospect of traveling in the blank days of temporary unemployment is a fantasy I keep on toying with while tweaking our thesis or writing a paper in class. Some people I know have been planning to go to Baguio before they haul their laid-back selves to job-hunting. The pressures of earning a living right after graduating keep on destroying such fantasies. If one does not have time to see places while in school, will one ever have the chance to travel after leaving it?

Of course it’s still possible, depending on the kind of job one enters. Journalism is a sure-fire answer, and that also goes for whatever specialization in the field, be it news, lifestyle, or even business. Isn’t it ironic, how a grounded job like this can take its employee places? It’s only a matter of doing the job well so that travel opportunities will never cease.

So my fantasies of traveling can still be possibly realized once I enter the workforce. However, there is a difference: work-related trips may not be as carefree as the carefree journeys I’ve take for granted before. But that is also a choice—after all, I can always pretend it isn’t work while I’m enjoying it, even as I sit down to write about it.

***

One does not travel only for the purpose of working or seeing new places. Travel must also have the purpose of self-seeking, hence the term “soul-searching.”

The soul-search trend isn’t as old in real life as it is in fiction. I know perhaps only a couple of people who have done it before. Funny enough, I discovered the term in a fairly new novel where a character who cannot decide whether she should marry someone packs her bags and heads off to the nicest beach she can afford to spend a few days in. Her soul search, however, flops as she returns home even more confused.

But should a soul search function solely as an escape from problems? While it is true that it is a good break from the pressures of everyday life, it shouldn’t be abused when problems need to be solved as soon as possible. The rationale, “coping with the difficulties of life” through breaks is already a passé alibi. Look at what happened to the tourists in Phuket, Thailand two Christmases ago.

Soul-searching, then, should be done not because one wishes to escape from problems. It should be a voluntary act that aims to re-examine and re-evaluate the self, for the purpose of understanding one’s own psyche or setting resolutions to one’s problematic areas. It need not arise from a certain problem that needs an immediate solution, nor a mere fancy to go out and smell the flowers.

If places need to be discovered and re-discovered, the self does, too.

***

The recent death of someone I know was a wake-up call for me to start doing everything I want to do. For about a week, when everything seemed to be in a rush, I lagged behind, dwelling on the sadness of the end of someone’s journey.

Ironically, the dread of “the end” only resurfaces when somebody dies. During difficult times, it’s natural to wish for the end, but when the end comes for somebody else, the thought of one’s own end becomes unbearable.

Then again, it is pointless to dwell on such thoughts if one wants to live fully. For a journey to continue, mobility is necessary until the actual end. And when it does, it starts a journey guaranteed never to end.

Montage Vol. 9 • February 2006