Where does a journey begin?
Is it on the threshold of the front door, where home is separated in space from everything that is not-home by a thin slab of wood? Is it in the driveway, where the engine of the car turns over, maps are opened, a new playlist is played for the first time? Is it at the point where, like Frodo leaving with the Ring, you suddenly realize that you’re about to be farther away from home than ever before? Is it the first gas station you come to? The first state line you cross? The first landscape you don’t recognize? The first unfamiliar place you wake up?
When does a journey begin?
When you step across that threshold, when you pull out of that driveway? Does it begin when you buy the ticket, or when you walk down the jetway, or when the shuddering rattle of the plane’s cabin suddenly stops as the wheels leave the runway, and you feel the weight of your body pressing itself into the seat? Steinbeck wrote that the journey begins before you leave, but how far back does that go? When you decided on a departure date? Or is it farther back: when your passport first arrived in the mail, when your dad took you to the ugly concrete low-rise government building to get your driver’s license, when you got on a bike for the first time as a kid? Or is Steinbeck wrong; is it much later, only once you’ve realized that you’ve left something important behind, or once you adjust to the altitude, or when you’re finally mentally present in a new place, hours or days or years after your physical arrival, that it actually begins?
And why does a journey begin?
Because we saw an article or photo essay? Because the tickets were on sale? Because we had some time to kill? Is it because the destination seems so appealing, or because the point of departure seems so intolerable? Is it because you’re trying to get somewhere specific, you think you have an agenda or an itinerary or a “bucket list”? Is it because you’re feeling bored, or restless, or afraid to sit still? And how far back does this go: to that moment in time that no one wants to think about, right after your parents had sex, when the genes that would determine your existence combined to give you the trait of wanderlust? And whence those genes – from ancestral immigrants, nomadic early humans, the first creature to decide to take a journey out of the ocean and onto the land, from the first movement of non-life to life? When we journey, are we just re-enacting an essential pattern of existence, and if we are, can a journey ever really begin?
And if it’s this complicated trying to figure out when it begins, how much harder is it to say when the journey ends?