“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
I had heard the quote by Eliot before, but the first time I became truly aware of what it meant was at a hostel in Florence, a place that really should have been called ‘hostile’ for the frat-boy chanting that had to be endured until 4 AM. The lines, from one of Eliot’s Four Quartets poems, were painted on the orange wall of the staircase in big white letters, as if the idea they formed was addressing me from some distant future when I would know exactly where I was, when the meaning of what it is to explore and leave behind has been extracted and the momentary fear long left in the dust.
At the time, I was at the beginning of a long journey. While I had already endured arriving at Rome at 5 AM to confusion, and hustle and bustle, and mental breakdown, there were so many other things – in hindsight – that were to come. The beauty of the moment, sometimes, is the lack of preparedness and the instance of faith. But the difficulty, often, is a thing we would rather not discuss, choosing instead to think of it has something to be endured and then filed away. The feeling of emptiness and futility can come along often when there is upheaval in life, when we are facing the open and unknown path, just as it does when we awake at 3:30 AM in a darkness that has yet to abate.