The (Non-) Hero’s Journey

Coming, Dear!
Coming, Dear!

For me, I will always associate any journey I make that is of any length with that of Odysseus, the man who managed to turn a routine night out with his friends into a 20 year sojourn away from all the things that mattered most in his life.  The Odyssey is probably my favorite book, and while I have only read it a few times, it seems to encompass all the things that are awesome: a road trip with friends, fighting for things that matter to you (both philosophically and politically), finding the value in being more clever than everyone else around you, telling fantastic stories to anyone and everyone who will listen, and most importantly, wanting to return to a place where you can take off your sandals, kill off all the people who are trying to move in on your woman, and wash up when you feel you are at your absolute grossest.

I don’t want to create the impression that I consider my own travels in life to be on par with that of a soldier returning home from war.  By comparison, at best, I could only be considered a Telemachus in the world of someone like Odysseus, if only because my own experiences on the road are so minor and short-term.  It is true that even the story of Telemachus is meant to parallel the larger journey his father is making – and by extension, we are all meant to measure our own attempts at travel against the grandfather of all journeys.  Still, I am apprehensive when I make comparisons between my experiences and those of a fictional character, mostly because I don’t want people to think that I consider my own life of the same caliber as one of the most important literary figures ever to appear in text.  Even if part of me feels like I’ve ripped off his formula for my own growth and experiences.

Yesterday, I returned from a week-long visit with family, during which I feel as if I came about as close as George Clooney did in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  There were obstacles to overcome, clashes with incredible foes (personal and public), a few good deeds done here and there, a few unrelated side journeys, meetings with friends and strangers, and in the end a return to my home and my girlfriend, where I was able to rest easily in my own bed again to make sense of everything that happened.

Any trip that involves family also involves a mixture of crazy feelings and emotions that are difficult to sort out.  As we age and grow in different ways, and follow different paths that put us further away from where we used to be, it is both easier and harder to deal with the realities that surround us.  Grandparents are closer to being gone, parents are closer to being teenagers again, teenagers are closer to being adults, and everyone is solidifying their personal philosophies in ways that are nearly impossible to say are even in the same ballpark anymore.  There is both sadness and joy mixed in with a maudlin consideration of mortality, and a simultaneous celebration of the potential that the future offers.

I was gone for a week, but the timing was prophetically unique.  My return to trip to PDX seemed to mark the physical close of Summer, and as I woke up to a cold and misty view outside my window, I felt with it a real and definite need for change, a desire to purge myself of bad habits and reaffirm what is and isn’t important.  I feel a renewed sense of purpose, a sense that I need to focus more on goals and productivity, and to eliminate hobbies that are no longer relevant.  I want to throw out all my crap in storage, grab my girlfriend by the hand and run headlong into the surf, to see what things we’ll find in the water, together, to reiterate the joy and confusion I feel in knowing this is what life is all about.

There is also a sort of sadness in all of this, because now more than ever I feel as if I have aged significantly.  Perhaps it is the fact that I have a partner to return to at all, something that was never the case for most of my life.  Or perhaps it was seeing my grandmother, who no longer seems to have any memory of anyone, look at me with complete confusion, and then ask for my address with a coy and romantic tone in her voice.  Or the conversation I had with my cousin’s teenage children, who all managed to rattle off a list of 50 bands I had never heard of in spite of the efforts I make to stay on top of new music.  Suddenly, there seems to be a certain kind of mortality creeping into my life, where no amount of detox or fresh fruit can reverse what is happening or what I’ve done to my body.

There are more grays this morning than there were a week ago.  One sweater doesn’t feel like its enough.

All of this is completely psychological, undoubtedly.  I know that my arm is not really in pain, nor do I need to see a doctor.  And yet when I looked at my brother’s surgery incision, with the staples holding his flesh in place, I can’t help but feel as if we are no longer young, that there are things that are gone and lost during our journeys in life that cannot be found no matter how much introspection I force upon myself.

And yet, I still felt good when I crossed the threshold and embraced my girlfriend in our kitchen with my spoils slung over my back.  As I threw out the garbage & recycling suitors that where trying to take over our home, it was almost as if the cycle had been completed, and I really had returned.  I may be older, in very real and measured ways, and I may have learned a few things here and there about life and how (and how not) to live it.  I know I haven’t yet given up the urge to travel; I am not home forever.  I may feel battle-scarred, but I know that I’m still young enough to appreciate the future ahead of me, while old enough to appreciate what I have now that I didn’t have then.

More than anything, I’m happy to know that at the end of the day, my own Penelope was here, waiting for me, knowing that I would return, and that through all her own trials in my absence, we are still hopelessly dedicated to each other in a way that puts a smile on my face and makes me want to return almost more than it make me want to leave.

This one’s for you, babe.

Now: I better catch up on my chores, fast, if I’m gonna have time to listen to all these records I found.

And: Hello Autumn.  Haven’t seen you in a while, have we?

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