hear ye, hear ye. i have some things to say.
suffering brings one closer to god.
perhaps this is true.
but maybe it just brings one closer to oneself, the lines and voices between the two being indistinct.
indeed i suffered through bosnia-herzegovinia, montenegro, albania, and kosovo. imagine the worst weather imaginable and then remodel it from imagination to reality (hazy lines here too) and that is the weather that enveloped me, impenitently, through these countries. am i looking for sympathy? for a conciliatory hand on my shoulder? nope. this is the life i have chosen. and i chose to suffer. and i did. and i will again. just like you will tomorrow. i can only hope you recognize it.
some people say they love the rain. they love the snow. they love the cold. what these people mean is that they love looking at these phenomena underneath a roof with a windex'ed pane of glass in between and dry warm fuzzy sweaters and socks on stand-by tucked away in drawers surrounded by thick, insulating walls with a thermostat awaiting instant adjustment and a soon-to-be whistling pot of tea boiling away on a source of heat that was activated with a simple twist of the wrist. weather is a movie. have a seat. watch. careful now, that tea is really hot.
weather is my life. within it is where i live. unless i am fortunate enough to sneak a pee in a gas station toilet and maybe even have a look in a mirror and then wish i hadn't.
i am the director. the producer. i live in the feature presentation. my retreat? a soggy tent and moist sleeping bag smelling of stale farts from the night before. and also smelling of foot.
you get used to it.
it's a life i choose. and i'd choose it again. when i stop choosing it, i will choose something else.
are you listenting to me? are you? i mean, are you getting it?
over fifty-some-odd-thousand kilometers (~30,000 miles) have passed beneath me and none worse than that gadawful stretch in albania and lord almighty i'll never forget it and looking back i wonder what it was that kept me going especially with all those well-meaning souls, in the snowy rain no less, telling me to turn around, to go back, to return to that from which i had come and take the other road. but i wanted to go to kosovo. and this was the only (and lonely) road. and so i just kept pedalling leaving those horizontally pivoting heads behind me and hoping for the best while knowing i would receive the worst. and when i finally made it to that little village by the river, that village of mud and potholes and full of aghast faces staring at this fool on his bike, all i ever wanted was bread. just bread. an eternity of mostly failed investigations finally provided rubbery old white (with a hue of blue, too) bread and i was thankful and i even found some fig jam which made me even more so. then it was back to more 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) per hour cycling in the mucky feculence all gunked up and funked up with supergluey skank. but now with bread and jam which made all the difference which is easy to do when there isn't much difference to make.
we all need to suffer. some of the time. not all. but perhaps most. it is good for the soul, if such a thing exists, and i am under the impression that it must. suffering in forty shades of everywhere gray taught me that. my soul exists. yours does too. it's just a matter of what we chose to do with them. we can kill them and still live. we can nurture them and still die.
the only certainty being death. how do we all plug along knowing this? why do we all plug along? no matter. let's just keep plugging. promise me you will.
to live forever sounds appealing until you realize there is no end. everything needs an ending and fortunately everything gets one. yes, everything. even suffering.
my suffering got an end, or at least temporary pauses, at the hands of some of the most generous, large-hearted people i have ever encountered. you will never see these people on the news. because the function of the news is to scare you, keep you pinned within a 5 mile radius of your door-always-locked home, and tantalize you to spend all your money and consume all those irresistible temptations shown on the dazzling, cyclical commercials. but these people...these are the people of our world that we all need to hear about, or, better yet, experience. mine is a fortunate soul. i hope yours is too.
an ice storm at the top of a mountain pass in bosnia-herzegovina ended up with me sipping tea and honey, nibbling at homemade cheese, wearing a new pair of socks, watching an episode of the, under the circumstances, surprisingly entertaining sit-com, "home improvement," and speaking not a lick of english.
a rain-changing-to-snow storm at the top of a wicked mountain pass in albania resulted in me (soaked to the bone, filthy with mud, snot snaggled in beard) not being allowed to set up my tent but rather entering a home full of warmth, very loud albanian music, politely declined offers of "moonshine," and no english. god the warmth from that fire. and the grilled pumpkin. and that belly dancer on tv, dear me.
a snowstorm on the approach to a mountain pass with desperation welling in my innards and i was warp-zoned into a home in kosovo, this area/country/region/nebulous entity where onlookers, looking on a television screen, anxiously watched their national election results and told me how they loved america, bill clinton, and george w bush because "we" helped kosovo defeat the serbs who killed (as they pointed to memorial pictures on their walls) their fathers, mothers, sisters, and children. all of this conveyed using zero english, but tears welled in eyes and a peacefully hanging silence need no translation.
it's enough to give one hope. imagine that. hope. in this world.
but hope can crash.
because i must consider what story the serbs would tell me. what's their spin?
history is a tale told and written by the winners. everything...now listen up here...everything is perspective:
to the eye of a human, could there be a more peaceful creature than that of a ladybug? well, ask the aphid.
two more things.
i was in a town and i don't even remember where and i was looking for a small road which is usually the kind of road i look for though i do ride the big ones too just to keep from getting rutted in a routine. i couldn't find the road i was looking for so i flagged a man down and asked him and he started gesticulating wildly and my confused countenance must have hidden nothing because he put up his pointer-finger and i obeyed it and didn't have to wait long before he came back with a pen and a sheet of paper. he was going to draw me a map. i watched his eyes while he pensively oriented himself and where i wanted to be and how best to illustrate it and then he blinked and started to draw. or at least tried to. because the pen wasn't cooperating. the ink wouldn't flow. he looked at me apologetically and tried again. nope. he made invisible swirls with the pen down in the corners of the paper leaving but topographical petroglyphic impressions, the deepness of which symbolized his mounting frustration. he licked the tip of the pen which resulted only in ink-less saliva streaks. he shook the pen, holding it at the end that doesn't write forcing all the clearly visible ink to the tip, to no avail. thoroughly flustered, he pulled out a lighter and submitted the tenacious roller ball to its flames. still nothing. my heart was breaking for this man. i didn't even care about the small road anymore. i didn't care about anything anymore. i just wanted that pen to write. that's what pens are supposed to do. write. i hated the pen. i loved the man. as a last ditch effort, he put that pen in his mouth and he sucked until his cheeks dented inwards and his eyes got real big and god did he suck on that pen and i was praying that the ink would give up and succumb to to this poor man's vacuum. that's all i wanted. that's all he wanted. but sometimes we don't get the things we want. and this was one of those times. he finally, very sadly, surrendered. he pointed to the first turn i must take but his indications were that there were many confusing turns following this. he was genuinely concerned for me. i thanked him and left in the direction of his pointing finger. shortly thereafter, i turned my head over my shoulder to look back and give the guy a valedictory wave. and there he stood. right where i left him. still shaking that pen.
but the pen had beaten him.
that man was suffering. some might say the pen caused it. but really, i caused it.
in another city, and, to the residents sheer delight, they had just begun digging up the main roads to build a subway. and i thought of the enormity of the task and how one even begins such a thing. where do you start; how exactly do you decide where to place the first shovel strike when so much looms to be done before completion? there is a natural stationary inertia preceding such monumental tasks. i mean, before you start, it's easier to tell yourself not to. that the city doesn't need a subway. perhaps just buy more buses. let the people walk. or maybe even give everyone a bike. some sort of easier alternative. but all the while, you know that once you get going, i mean, once you embrace the don't-think-just-do-and-leap philosophy, you know that it will be fine and that, yes, there will be frustrations and pitfalls but also great things too; great things you could have never imagined or predicted. but you just gotta get going. you just gotta start. you gotta let those stomach-caged cocoons metamorphose and deal with the following flutterings and then get on with it.
the rest takes care of itself.
and so i remembered my first couple pedal strokes in vanuatu, and then in new caledonia, and then and then and then and now as europe starts dissolving and central asia or wherever i point my bike next starts materializing, i remember those lumps of initial anxiety and how easy it would have been to have not even started this foolhardy trip. instead, in lieu, alternatively...to have listed all sorts of things in different fonts on crisp white sheets of paper with all my numbers and digits and soul-sucking "achievements" and send those lists (along with dreaded "statements of intent") to companies and wait for phone calls and shake hands (firmly, look 'em in the eye) with bodies embraced by stiff shirts that were somehow cleaned dryly and market myself as a needed component for whatever it was that needed an extra cog and to have a paycheck (immediately purged by bills) and a cell phone whose sonic tweeps and twirps might as well be the voice of god given the reverence we bestow upon them. also, i would have a tea kettle.
the tea kettle was tempting.but.
i somehow got my ink flowing. i slammed the shovel into the ground. i defeated the inertia of potential in favor of kinetic.
and so i suffer. but i also exult. and, when not at peace, i worry needlessly. the lows are low. the highs, high.
perhaps you long for a taste of my life. well, here's a secret: i pine for a taste of yours. a gulp of it, even.
this is my disease. my disease of discontent. my nausea of neuralgia. i am always wishing for that which is not what i now do.
that's not really true.
what's true is that i want to be the warm yellow sodium glow that washes over you from a buzzing lamp post, and if that's not really true too, i'd at least like to be your shadow eternally praying for clouds.
it's all the mad times i've had on this ride. i mean, here i am on a park bench in greece and i'm thinking of that family in the desert of mexico who went to their earthen clay pots and gave me a liter of water and lord how i drank it and i'm wondering, really wondering, if they remember me. and if it matters if they don't. but i really do remember them. their laughter in languages i didn't understand. even the sound of the water.
it's when you look back.
everything actually happens when you look back.
and it's only while you live that nothing really happens.
thank you, none and all, for your unabating attention and sympathetic silence. my ardent apologies should you have had any trouble finding a seat.