Strange lands are calling out to me.
These are pictures of Mongolia, my second favourite place in the world (for now). My favourite is Iceland. I have promised myself to revisit both.
Both Mongolia and Iceland share a sublimity and an exoticism that rivets me.
Lands that stretch out to the horizon.
Glimpses of how large the world is and how small we are.
People whose lives are blown about by the winds of change and chance.
Like what Alain de Boton writes in The Art of Travel, “I’m obsessed with inventing stories for people I come across. An overwhelming curiosity makes me ask myself what their lives might be like. I want to know what they do, where they’re from, their names, what they’re thinking about at that moment, what they regret, what they hope for, whom they’ve loved, what they dream of…”
In the same chapter ‘On the Exotic’, he writes that “we may value foreign elements not only because they are new but because they seem to accord more faithfully with our identity and commitments than anything our homeland can provide… What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.”
If this is so, then what is it about Mongolia that I identify with?
Maybe I see in the endless sun-lit land my longing for eternity.
Or I admire in the nomad what he shares with the pilgrim.
Or maybe I just eschew the trappings of metropolitan life.
But I must not give the impression that I wish to escape the life I am now living.
I am burdened by none of the doubt and angst that had plagued me when I first began practice.
And while comfort and ambition can be confining too, I am nowhere near my limits.
There is still so much more to grow, to learn, to explore. There is so much space for God to move.
So this is less about repulsion and more about attraction. A place out there is calling to a place in me.
“Desire elicits a need to understand,” writes Alain de Boton. But maybe the converse is true as well: understanding precipitates desire.
As I learn more about the Middle East, I feel increasingly drawn to it. I especially hope to visit Iran (after things settle down at least) and see for myself how this faded Persian glory—from whence the Magi came—can also be Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a country that the West loves to hate, and the only issue that Israel and the Gulf can agree on, all at the same time.
I also hope to bring Aunty Anula to Nepal next year for she has always wanted to see Buddha’s birthplace.
And if I had all the time and money in the world, I would want to canoe in New Zealand, hike in Patagonia, and dogsled in Greenland (just to name a few other places).
I guess it comes as no surprise that perhaps these desires point to something deeper.
The night that these velleities sharpened into resolve, I had come from a peaceful place. I had spent the large part of the night in a quiet church while the lights and jingles of a fiesta had swirled on the road outside.
But even in that serene space, my heart had searched and pined and writhed—a storm in the eye of a storm.
And when I finally got home, I stayed up way past my usual bedtime, until my heart’s tumultuous longings quietened into soft aches, until it bought the illusion that a Place could fill its Person-shaped hole.
That was a lonely night. It was one of those nights where that which ought to be and that which is longed for seem more real than that which merely is. It was a night for dreams and for stories.
It was, so to speak, an Arabian night.