As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
Constantine P. Cavafy
“But, Nora told me, do not forget that the day that ends at nightfall is given back to you on the morrow. You get it back. And you keep getting it back, so it is up to you to decide what you will do with it.”
Astronomy teaches patience and humility—and you had better be prepared to learn them. Not everything will work the first time. You’ll hunt for some wonder in the depths and miss it, and hunt again, and miss it again. This is normal. But eventually, with increasing knowledge, you will succeed.
There’s nothing you can do about the clouds that move in to block your view, the extreme distance and faintness of the objects of your desire, or the special event that you missed because you got all set up one minute late. The universe will not bend to your wishes; you must take it on its own terms.
I did finally have my rabbinical moment in Britain. After the jet lag was over, I was interviewed onstage by a woman with a plummy, fluting accent. “So,” she trilled, “you’ve been wounded by humanity and fled to the landscape for refuge.” The implication was clear: I was an exceptionally sorry specimen on display, an outlier in the herd. I turned to the audience and asked, “Have any of you ever been wounded by humanity?” They laughed with me; in that moment, we knew that we were all weird, all in this together, and that addressing our own suffering, while learning not to inflict it on others, is part of the work we’re all here to do. So is love, which comes in so many forms and can be directed at so many things. There are many questions in life worth asking, but perhaps if we’re wise we can understand that not every question needs an answer.
The windows are open, the birds are singing in the birch tree. It’s getting dark outside, it’s getting dark, and the sweet sweet breeze is blowing in through the windows. What a fabulous time of year, and how lucky we are.
Garrison Keillor, from “Ridin’ the River Home.” in “The News from Lake Wobegon.” A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. Minnesota Public Radio. 26 Sep. 2014. Radio.
Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
The openness to begin is all the openness we are required to have each day. We start today, and tomorrow we start again, and the day after we start again, as we will the day after that. In this way, and no other, does our journey come to us. We begin. The rest unfolds through us.