“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.
In whatever form it takes, the journey into newness – the unknown – takes courage. While we are often sold the concept of innovation and creativity as things that require courage, mostly, we live solidly among the idea of the home, a secure place that is stable. While re-inventing oneself and creating anew may be romantic concepts that fuel us in our youth, as we get older what we leave behind is more a matter to be borne and lived with than it is to be understood.
When I moved to the city of Vancouver many years ago from the resort town of Whistler, it felt like something had been left, a place I had come to love. It was one thing to know I was in the right place, but from my window I could see the bright lights of Grouse Mountain that alluded to the mountains beyond that one, the highway that led down an old road, the formerly new home that had been left behind. The philosopher and writer Hermann Hesse once wrote, “Who would be born must first destroy a world.” In Eliot’s poem, the act of leaving behind and knowing again is characterized, but when we leave behind, we destroy too – we reject what we’ve been given and what we’ve found for the other.
Creation can be something that liberates us, but it comes in tandem with destruction. It can take courage to leave behind, but there is another impulse too, of escape, that exists alongside it. As a culture, we value the concept of security, of stability and home, but when is it courageous to leave behind and brave to stay? Because we have ventured, we find things that pertain better to us and engender new things. But, what is home – a place we have known or a place we have found?