I’m an overweight, dumpy older fellow who can barely run a ten-yard spring. I collapsed a month ago when my right knee gave away. After the orthopedic surgeon diagnosed a torn meniscus in that knee, and after several weeks of physical therapy, he still said: “Don’t do anything dumb in the next couple of months of traveling or I’ll see you on the operating table.”
Nevertheless, may legs have taken me farther and faster than my mind. For a week, I’ve been in Kathmandu. While my body has been here, my mind has taken this whole week to realize that I’m not in Atlanta anymore. Why the disconnect?
Like everybody else, I have past concerns and future anxieties. A week before I left, my university held a farewell reception for me. Before, during, and after the reception, I kept recalling conversations with colleagues and friends living and dead. The conversation might be with an eccentric colleague who slept in her office, or with a tenacious bulldog who helped lead a vote of no confidence in an egotistical president, or with friends drinking tea in Lijiang during a Fulbright seminar. I remember the students, from the student who brought a pillow to an 8 AM class my first semester to a student, and another president’s daughter, who I had to accompany back to Atlanta prematurely from Honduras because she fell while riding a horse. I remember the staff who mopped the bathrooms, hung my extra, extra large map of China to my office wall, guided prospective students on campus tours, and who made sure that I received reimbursement from my various trips. After twenty-five years, I find myself still being surprised by the memories of people, places, and experiences which spontaneously pop-up.
Like everybody else, I have my future anxieties. When I traveled for six-months during my sabbatical, I had a specific academic focus which shaped those future months of travel. I sought to learn more about how specific major religious communities, Buddhists at Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan, Hindus at the Ramakrishna Institute of Culture in India, Jews, Muslims, and Christians associated with the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Israel, and everyday folk walking the Camino in Spain addressed perennial issues of quotidian life ( sex, sweat, shrubs, strangers, and sickness in my metaphoric terminology). My audience was clear. I wanted to share with my freshmen and sophomore students not only information from books and journals, but also the insights from leaders and ordinary members of those communities whom I met on my travels. Will I find purposes to supplant that focus? What will those purposes be as I travel for the next two months?
In the background, I have other future anxieties. Beginning July 1, I will no longer have a regular paycheck. Should I really stay at an expensive hotel at Delhi’s Aerocity so that I can more easily catch an early morning flight to Leh? Is this trip my last, intellectually stimulating adventure, my “last hurrah?”
So, my feet have taken me farther and faster than my mind with its past and future preoccupations. Of course, my situation is not unique. All of us face the question as to how to handle our past and future in the immediacy of the present. I know that I’m not jettisoning the past and ignoring the future. Rather than forgetting the past I have much for which to be grateful; rather than fearing the future, I look forward to being surprised and finding other hopes. I want to find a “moving harmony” in the present along with my past memories and my future concerns. I want to find that balance even when I know that it is necessary and appropriate, at times, to dwell on memories of the past right now, or to dream and hope for a future right now.
Vegetable momos? Dah Bhat? I see that my legs have taken me to the hotel restaurant. There is nothing like an empty stomach and a good meal to make me aware of the present. So much for a harmony with the past and the future. I’m ready to eat now.