[Alice went on,] “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“Are you leaving from? Or are you going to?”–a recent question to me from a friend.
Sometimes I wonder whether life isn’t just a simple navigational problem. I used to be an airline pilot. For each flight I knew where I was starting from; where I was going; why I was going there; what the obstacles were between here and there (e.g., weather, mountains); what the best route of flight was for the triple goals of maintaining the schedule, fuel economy, and passenger comfort; and how much fuel I needed to get there.
My journey through life has often seemed less precise. There have been times when I have been leaving from somewhere; I have found the situation I’m in intolerable for any number of reasons and I’m off to something else, anything else “so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” as Alice says. I’ve left where I am with no clear destination in mind. In “leaving from” I knew my starting point but any of many destinations will do.
That’s the thing about leaving from. The destination is often unknown; when I have wanted to leave where I am all that I know is that I want to be where I am now not. My reasons for leaving have sometimes been to escape: escape from the big city, escape from life in a cubicle, escape from a dreary job, escape from routine, escape from a difficult situation, escape from painful memories…escape to anywhere but here.
For some, a life of leaving is enjoyable. No roots, no commitment, no responsibilities…it is the journey that matters. It is a life of exploration and excitement. Spontaneity rules. Perhaps you
have seen the t-shirt that says, “Not everyone who wanders is lost.”
I have a natural curiosity and restlessness that has often provided fuel for my life’s journey. It has been the driving force behind some of my leavings. “The grass is greener,” I have told myself more than once, “just on the other side of the next fence.” Just over there it will be better, there will be new things to see and learn, new experiences to be had. And, often that has proved true.
Recently, however, I’ve begun to think differently about leaving. No, not about changing locations, but about the idea of “leaving from” vs “going to.” In “going to” the destination is known. One can start a going to journey from anywhere, but the destination is known. As I reflected on years of leaving–I’ve lived in 9 states and had 5 careers, so far–here is the realization to which I’ve come, strange as it may sound to some: all of my leavings have been goings. Whether fueled by curiosity, restlessness, or escape, all of my instances of leaving have been caused by my search for something, by being drawn toward something that has been unknown to me for most of my life.
In his little book, Happiness & Contemplation, philosopher Pieper claims that “man craves by nature happiness and bliss.” By nature we crave it, it is hard-wired into us. “Why do you want to be happy?” asks Pieper. It is a question we never ask because it has no answer. We just do want it…by nature. Now there’s a lot more to this happiness thing than can be said here, but if he is right, and I think he is, then all leavings are indeed goings…going toward happiness, even if we don’t know what that is for us. Of course, some believe they are undeserving of happiness, but that is for another time.
Why do you want to be happy?
If I am simply a creation of random mutation and natural selection, then it would seen happiness should be within my grasp. Happiness should come from surviving, from achieving the four F’s: flee, fight, food, and fornication, these are all that are required for an organism’s basic survival. And yet…for millennia philosophers have known this about happiness: truest happiness is a gift, it comes to us from outside our souls. We can act to get things or to do things, each which brings us some measure of happiness; however, that which quenches our deepest thirst for happiness comes from outside of us, from contemplating the greatest good.
An African bishop named Augustine, alive some 1700 years ago in present-day Algiers, had an early life of wandering, of leaving-from-while-really-going-to…he has helped me to understand my own journey happiness. He said, “You have made us and directed us toward Yourself and our heart is restless until we rest in you” (Confessions 1.1)
You have made us and directed us toward Yourself and our heart is restless until we rest in you.
I am created by God to be in a loving relationship with Him; outside of that I will always be incomplete and unhappy in the depths of my soul. And not just any god will do, the god must be the God of tri-unity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, each a person, each person God, yet together the one God…the great mystery of the God of Christianity. The single-person gods of other beliefs will simply not do here; a single-person god would find happiness by contemplating self, the worst sort of self-centeredness. No, none of these single-person gods are like the intrinsically outward-facing Christian God of eternal love between Father-Son-Spirit; a God of happiness spent in eternal contemplation of the Other. It is this God that yearns for a loving relationship with each of us.
Happiness, then, comes from contemplating the greatest good, the God of Christianity. He made use that way; it is our nature. Poet T.S. Eliot described for me my journey back to God in a few lines from his poem “Little Giddings“:
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.