The strangest, happiest and saddest thing about going on adventures is that there comes a point when the journey must come to an end, and for me this is the point where I turn around and head for home.
Endings have a way of bringing things into focus. In all of us I think there is a natural desire for conclusions, for closure. To know we can close the book, safe if the knowledge that everything is as it should be. Of course there may be a sequel - more adventures, more challenges, questions and trials - but for now, we rest, our questions answered and fears relieved. Of course not all endings wrap up as neatly as that, in fact many writers leave us hanging in suspense driving us mad with unanswered questions until the next book comes out. For me the end of this chapter is more attune to the latter.
It was four months ago when I began this journey. My tricycle full to over flowing and my mind and my heart a sea of questions unanswered and dreams unrealised. I had told myself and many others: "This will be my last big journey, I think." I'm not sure why I said that. I think even before I began I was weary of the transient lifestyle I'd been living. I want a home, a place that's mine, to put my belongings in cupboards and wardrobes rather than forever carrying them in a suitcase or leaving them behind in boxes.
Those first few weeks were hard work - I remember - and there were many times I nearly turned around. I'm glad now that I didn't though I would often stop and stare into the distance, then turn around and stare behind me and wonder which way to go. Reluctantly I would face forwards once again and pedal on.
This journey hasn't just been one measured in kilometres cycled, countries visited and mountains climbed. In many ways my physical movements have been a backdrop for a greater adventure that has been taking place, an adventure of friendships and connections, of learning to see and to do something about what I see, of admitting my weaknesses, realising my strengths and accepting myself as I am, of hope and courage, and mostly... Mostly of dreaming.
As I read about the life of Mary Ann (Will Schwalbe's mother,) it has felt as though I were sat next to her at her coffee table listening to her stories and hearing words of wisdom - from a woman who even in her last days was determined to live a full life and one that impacted the world around her.
Since I can remember my prayer and my dream has always been to live a full life. To do something that mattered, that made a difference. I say prayer, because I do pray still, not with much faith I must admit. Something Mary says to her son, after some friends (who are completely unreligious) tell her they are praying for her made me smile: "I think the prayers of heathens are much more powerful than the those of the religious." Maybe she is right? I found my self praying the other morning after watching a short film about the Syrian civilians who were brutally murdered in a army attack. I thought of the refugee's we had met last year on the Syrian border in Turkey, I thought of the street kids in Elbasan, the Roma communities I had visited... I don't want to be a poverty tourist! God! I want to do something...
I think prayer is the natural expression when we realise we are at the end of ourselves. I have reached the end of myself. I don't know what I can do, yes I can juggle and set things on fire... But really... How do I really make a difference? So I find myself praying, with little faith, and little discipline. Father if you are really there, help me, I don't know what to do or where to start. I know I don't have much faith, but I do know that I want to make a difference... I can't see and do nothing.
I think I have decided that questions very rarely lead to answers. And to expect them to is often the recipe for frustration and disappointment. Mostly they lead us to other questions, to conversations, relationships, impulses, adventures, challenges, and yet more questions after that. Perhaps though questions are more important than answers because they lead us somewhere, and the journey changes us... This has definitely been true of my journey over the last few months. As I have talked and listened and seen; and as I've made decisions and dealt with challenges I have found myself unpacking many questions from my bags and leaving them on the side of the road, not because I found the answers but simply because I had travelled to a point where the questions became unimportant and I had to make room for new questions which would take me further down the road.
Sometimes questions follow us for decades as we navigate our lives other times they stand in front of us and demand a decision, an action... As I start to pack my bags once more and get ready to leave Skopje and head for home I find myself thinking about my place in this world. As I look around me and see all that is going on - the good and the bad - I ask myself: How will I respond?
Will Schwalbe quotes from the book he found next to his mother's bed the day she died which it's self quotes the words of John Ruskin:
If you do not wish for His kingdom, don't pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it.
This is indeed another ending, but whether it is the last of my journeys I'm not so sure... I'll have to wait for the sequel.