Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner…
George Bailey: No no no no. Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.

-It’s a Wonderful Life

I lie in bed in the loft of my grandmother’s condo, a condo which overlooks a river that trails through a city. A city in the middle of nowhere, I could say. A city in the center of everything, you might argue.

As I lie here, surrounded by overflowing suitcases and half-packed boxes, I gaze up through the skylight. The starry sky shines with all the brilliance of a hot summer night. In the past week, the clouds have gathered, the rain has poured, and the province has flooded.

But none of this matters to me — tomorrow, I’m leaving.

Tonight, when you kissed me, I let my hands fall at my sides and I watched you drive away.  I walked to the edge of the river valley and stared out at the green lights of the pyramids and the trail of headlights that drifted down into the darkness. Each car was filled with people, most of whose paths I will never cross. But each of these passengers had their own Edmonton story to tell: memories of a city — defined not by skyscrapers or statistics, but through moments of personal connection. Memories of bitter-cold days with family at the local rink; laughter as children splashed in the legislature fountains, or of that first shared smile over dessert at the Creperie. A web of moments, caught in collective memory, and strewn over the city skyline.

I stood there this evening and I took in all of this, unaware of the phone buzzing in my pocket. I didn’t catch your calls, didn’t hear your voicemail, didn’t read your messages, until it was too late.

Your hellos were my goodbyes.

As I lie here now, an hour later, I think of what is to come. I dream of this upcoming week in Vancouver, this month in Africa, this year in the Netherlands. And I wonder if my path is veering off at the wrong moment. But this is the direction I want it to take, and that’s just the problem with wanderers, isn’t it? We’re here for an instant, long enough to leave an imprint, but nothing that lasts. Our presence can vanish like footprints on the tide line.

Six months from now, I will remember this night. I’ll look back on it with saudade: a deep, nostalgic longing for something that can never be recovered. But in the meantime, I will journey down this path that I’ve laid out. I will travel to new worlds, encountering cultures and sensations that are both foreign and fascinating. I will bounce from place to place, my passport and suitcase never far from reach. I will connect with new people, people who stir my heart and my mind, and once again leave me uncertain. But I will be happy, and so will you.

Yet, as I lie right now in this bed in this condo on the river in the city that means both nothing and everything, I cannot predict this future. I worry that I should linger, that I should settle down and dig in roots as is expected. I worry that the timing is wrong, that I should wait. I worry that setting off on my own again — like I always do — is a mistake.

But then, amid the silence of that summer night, I hear the high-pitched whistle of a train in the distance, and I know that whatever I’m doing, wherever I’m headed, things will be alright.

Everything in this world keeps moving, and I’ll move with it.