14 June 2012

public transportation...and transformation

'It doesn't matter how you get there, as long as you get there.'

'It's not the destination, it's the journey.'

Two very popular, poignant, and completely contradictory cliches.

The former seems to emanate from all those folks who score an off-the-charts 'J' on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, the organized, 'closure' types of folks. It makes no difference HOW you get the job done. Just get 'er DONE.

The latter flows naturally from all those whimsical 'P's' who like to keep things open-ended and flexible. The 'goal' isn't to finish the hike, but to stop and smell the flowers along the pathway.

But rather than travel down the trail that leads to 'solving' the seeming 'contradiction' by affirming one cliche as being more 'meaningful' or 'true' than the other (and hence, having to 'continue' putting every fourth 'word' in this piece in 'quotation' marks, a la Chris Farley), i choose to embrace them both as two 'sides' of the same proverbial 'coin' of life experience (but i can't 'seem' to get 'rid' of those damn 'quotation' marks...).

When it comes to reaching a goal in life, so often, the means to that goal are surprising and unexpected, and even frustrating and difficult. But whatever the means may have been, you reached the goal and felt that great satisfaction and relief of arriving at the place upon which you had set your hopes.

And ironically, once you have reached that goal, so often, you realize that the goal itself is only one step along a journey of life upon which you continue to travel, a journey where 'arriving' is merely one aspect of a much longer, broader and deeper sojourn of 'becoming' (with those damn 'QUOTATION' marks again...ugh!).

Fish or cut bait? Shit or get off the pot? Journey or destination?

The 'answer', in my son Ian's inimitable voice...


Ever since he was a wee lad, Ian has always been able to embody both of these realities with equal vitality and vigor.

He looks forward to experiences of arriving at destinations and seeing places and people with so much enthusiasm, we have to write them down on the calendar far ahead of time so that he can refer to the upcoming events every day and go over the litany of what's to come whilst prancing around the house like Buddy the Elf celebrating a visit from Santa ('I KNOW him!!!').

And while he is en route to those destinations and events, he takes in so many things along the way, each of those things eliciting the same giddy and gleeful response. 'Packing the big bags' for a trip. Looking at pictures of the people he will see on the trip. Counting out the number of days we will stay in each place, and what we will experience in each of those places. As much as he looks forward to arriving at certain places along his journey of life, he savors almost each step along the way as an arrival in and of itself.

He loves long road trips and arriving at familiar and fun locations.

AND even after traveling 600 miles on the freeway in a given day, he almost always complains about exiting because he loves to 'JUST KEEP GOING!'

Dichotomous Jim.

Or actually, Integrated Jim.

When we finally arrived at the great and glorious day of departure for Graduate Jim's Grand Adventure (to San Diego, to stay at 'Grandma and Grandpa's Hotel' - their condo in a high-rise building, and Orange County, to stay at 'Camp Erickson', the home of our dear friends, Dan and Jeanine Erickson), Ian couldn't wait to get there. AND he was ecstatic that he was finally going to get to fly there on Allegiant Airlines.

When Ian walked in the door to my parents' place, he was so excited, he almost flew out the window. We set down our 'big bags'. He did a once-around the place, out onto the patio to say 'hi' to the Coronado Bridge, back in to see the cereal in the cupboards and the orange juice in the fridge and the mint chip in the freezer. He had ARRIVED.

But on the way there, Ian was so jubilant just getting on the plane, he could have levitated us all into the air and powered us all the way down to LAX. Then once we landed and got our rental car, we rumbled down the 5 south, Ian smiling and giggling and singing all the way. And we parked at my folks' building. And we rode the elevator up the 18 stories to their place. And it was like riding the Space Shuttle for him. Astronaut Jim.

He had made it to the DESTINATION.

AND he had enjoyed the JOURNEY.

And now, it was time for the JOURNEY to continue.

We had plenty of things to do and places and people to see over the course of the Adventure. Coronado Beach (and Bridge). Belmont Park and Mission Beach. Sea World. But the first thing Ian wanted to do once we arrived in San Diego (after picking up lunch at In-N-Out, of course...ALWAYS the first thing to do when arriving in CA) was something only Ian would want to do before anything else.

He wanted to ride the trolleys.

This desire harkens back to our years living in Princeton, when both Ian and Trevor loved to go to the local train station and watch the trains go thundering by. Sometimes, we even got on the train to NYC, which was only an hour away.

But we only ever rode the train to NYC for one reason. To get on other trains to ride (the subway trains). We might occasionally stop off at the Natural History Museum for an hour or so. But usually, we never made it to street level.

Because the boys just wanted to ride the trains.

For the sheer JOY of riding the trains.

Because it's not the DESTINATION.

It's the JOURNEY.

This love of public transportation only grew when we moved to the Bay Area and had the chance to ride the BART and MUNI trains around the city, under the Bay, and through the East Bay areas. The only stops we made were either the San Francisco Shopping Center (not to shop or snack, but to ride the CURVED escalators inside), or certain stations in order to change platforms and transfer to other lines or to turn around and head back to where we started.


Just the JOURNEY.

So when my parents moved to San Diego, where the heart of their public transportation system is a series of historic trolleys, it made perfect sense that Ian would love riding them all over town. (We even rode one down to Tijuana once, where we got off at the border, crossed over to get tacos, crossed back over, and  got back on the trolley to take us back to town. Tijuana Taco Jim.)

We bought our tickets and waited. With great anticipation.

Until the trolley finally arrived.

And we stepped off the curb and onto a trolley that transported us not merely into the various neighborhoods of the city, but in Ian's perspective, into a neverland of sight and sound, movement and magic, sensation and spirit. One look at him, and you'd think we were getting onto the Polar Express. i mean, you don't run into many people riding public transportation who look quite this happy...

or who spend most of the ride in this position...

As we swerved and sailed through station after station, i watched the various travelers step on and off of the trolley. Some were weary workers commuting to or from their places of employment. Others were students, couples, families heading out for some time together or back home to rest.

But all of them had one thing in common.

They were riding the trolley merely as a means to get from one place to another, to travel in order to ARRIVE at their next DESTINATION.

And then I looked at Ian.

He already knew that his DESTINATION was to ARRIVE back at the place where he started. And that DESTINATION was, at least for the next week, ‘home’ for him. And he loved and celebrated that reality.

And yet, for him, in those hours (yes, HOURS) that we rode the trolley everywhere (except TJ ;), it made no difference that in terms of life as a 'moving from point-A-to-point-B' type of experience, we technically didn't 'go' anywhere. He wasn't really concerned that all we did was to go in a big 'circle' around and through town.

Because for him, what was most exciting, exhilarating, intoxicating, even inspiring was the motion and movement that became the means for all that is mysterious and magical to be manifest in our midst.

What for most people serves as a vehicle of transportation is, for Ian, a vehicle of transcendence.

It was as if we actually WERE on the Polar Express.

And Ian was hearing the mystical bells of the trolley ringing, like all who truly believe.

And as i watched him immersing himself in every ringing bell and blinking light and beeping horn, delighting in every bridge we flew under and every bird and plane that flew over us, radiantly reflecting the beauty of cosmic creation revealed in simple sensations and pure pleasures, i found myself struck by tears, suddenly and fully aware that i wasn't merely taking a nice ride through the city.

i was traveling on a JOURNEY, the DESTINATION of which is where i started.

i wasn't simply sailing in a circle around town.
i was a part of a much greater and more gracious Circle of Life and Love.

i wasn't only moving in a vehicle of public transportation.
i was traveling in a trolley of transcendence,
on a JOURNEY of transformation that is private...
AND public...
AND universal...
AND oh so Real.

(no 'quotation' marks needed :)

In Ian's joy, i saw just a faint glimmer of the glorious, eternal, neverending JOY that is already present in the here and now...
where the rumblings of wheels echo the Rhythms of wonder...
where the perplexing paradoxes of life are revealed and revered...
where the mystical, ringing bells resound for ALL to hear…
where the DESTINATION and the JOURNEY are embraced and united as one experience, and articulated in one infinite, inimitable word…



  1. Jiminy Crickets, Brian... another great blog! Thanks again for giving me such richness to think about. I wrote down, and will cherish "vehicle of transcendence." Reading those words, I felt stress melt away. LIFE is the destination and the journey. Thank you. Kimberly

    1. Thanks, Kimberly...hope you're enjoying the ride :) b.