Licking the Earth

When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises, being known and praised, ostensible pleasures like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, ‘licking the earth’.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Sailing into Adventure

Three Englishmen decided to sail across the English Channel on a whim and a 7-foot dinghy in May of 2011. Eleven hours later they greeted rescuers with cries of “Bonjour,” thinking they had reached the coast of France. But the trio had traveled just two miles from where they had launched their tiny boat. One of the rescuers told the media that the smallest of waves might have capsized them.

It’s easy to laugh at the young men. They only brought a single paddle with a bottle of wine on their big adventure. Yet how often we are likewise adrift, thinking only of the fun we'll have during our journey, unaware we are going nowhere?

Stephen Goforth

escape from your comfortable web

Many young people have stopped learning in the religious or spiritual dimensions of their lives long before they graduate from college. Some settle into rigid and unchanging political and economic views by the time they are twenty-five or thirty. By their mid-thirties most will have stopped acquiring new skills or new attitudes in any central aspect of their lives.

As we mature we progressively narrow the scope and variety of our lives. Of all the interests we might pursue, we settle on a few. Of all the people with whom we might associate, we select a small number. We become caught in a web of fixed relationships. We develop set ways of doing things. As the years go by we view our familiar surrounding with less and less freshness of perception. We no longer look with a wakeful, perceiving eye at the faces of people we see every day, nor at any other features of our everyday world.

That is why travel is a vivid experience for most of us. At home we have lost the capacity to see what is before us. Travel shakes us out of our apathy, and we regain an attentiveness that heightens every experience. The exhilaration of travel has many sources, but surely one of them is that we recapture in some measure the unspoiled awareness of children.

It is not unusual to find that the major changes in life - marriage, a move to a new city, a new job, or a national emergency - reveal to us quite suddenly how much we have been imprisoned by the comfortable web we had woven around ourselves. Unlike the jailbird, we don't know that we have been imprisoned until after we have broken out.

John Gardner