Some painful idea gets hold of me; . . . If I cannot fight it, I flee it; and by my flight I make a diversion and use craft; by changing place, occupation and company I escape from it into the crowd of other pastimes and cogitations, in which it loses all track of me and cannot find me.
MONTAIGNE, “OF DIVERSION”
I am sometimes intensely aware that escape is always an option, that there is invariably a way, legal or not, to pull together airfare or gas money, that I am capable of packing up the most basic of necessities, emptying the contents of my house onto the curb within an afternoon, and hitting the road for good with my son, leaving behind every unpaid bill, unanswered e-mail, and unreturned phone call. I hold on to this knowledge some days as if it were the only safety rope left unfrayed by the cataclysmic or mundane, depending on the season, events of daily life. Ropes weaken, after all, just as often by an accumulation of minor frictions as they do by severe blows. But regardless of its condition, losing my grip means free-falling onto a thick-mossed ledge of stability and the shortlived relief of a firm landing on a square meter or so of solid rock jutting from a cliff face until I realize what limited room I have to navigate, what little hope there is of making my way up or down from there. I have been stuck this way too many times—financially, emotionally, professionally—for it to ever happen again. So these days, should the rope snap, should my hands slip, I’m more likely to kick myself as far from the bluff as possible, with every intention of propelling my body all the way down to its base.
While I’ve resisted, in the most recent third of my life, taking to the road so dramatically, I have traveled across my own or other countries every year of the last twenty. I’ve wandered enough to know that, in the end, it isn’t the destinations that attract me but my passage between them: the slow rocking of the train between Belgrade and Podgorica, the bob and swerve of buses headed from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo, the jerking progress of songthaews down two-lane roads in central Thailand. A conference in Hamburg becomes a train ride to Berlin, a cheap flight to see family in Helsinki, another stretch of rail to Nakkila, and a side trip to Amsterdam before returning home. A short-term teaching position in Seoul stretches into backpacking through Southeast Asia for the rest of the summer.
It’s the person I become in transit that lures me out, the winnowing of concerns to finding only shelter, sustenance, and transportation from one place to the next….