New Orleans

My Bohemian Thanksgiving

Photo by Stephen McLeod Blythe

The people around you are avatars.

My tribe is scruffy and bruised. We will visit upon each other the blessings of our kind. These blessings are meager, heartfelt and stung with joy. The joy is momentary: the richest kind.

That morning brings an hour-long bike ride. I’ll pick up wine, a worthy expense. I know good wines. It will bankrupt me, someday.

The First Thanksgiving is with a fellow priest. He feeds his African gods every day. He’s from Honduras. His talent is that he can say anything—crude, vulgar, insulting or wrong—and you will laugh with him, never offended.

This is more useful than knowing wine.

We’ll go to his brother’s house. I believe they serve sandwiches instead of turkey. The goal is to stay the shortest possible time and escape. I can’t be counted on to support this goal. I like sandwiches.

The Second Thanksgiving is in a sanctuary. It’s a private home. Every shelf, every inch is an altar to a goddess (which goddess? the goddess!). Each possession chosen to reflect faith; each belonging, designed to provoke calm and ease.

Our de facto priestess, estranged from her family, adopts us instead.  We are the children who eat her Gramm’s recipes, we are the cousins who argue over wine. Every argument ends in laughter. True disagreement is exorcised in that place. Anger falls from the air like geese under fire.

We all have fears. But we are safe for ten hours. A one day reprieve from Fortune.

We could fall asleep, but that would end the show.

After dark I mount the bike. One hour back. In a cottage on St. Anthony live two college students. One has a girlfriend. She adores cooking. They’ll come home from the horse races, late, and she will make two versions of every dish. There’s no reason for this except, of course, she enjoys it.

The Third Thanksgiving. I’m stuffed but I’ll help them eat. They’re tired but they’ll open the door. I’ll offer my wine and we’ll drink like old comrades. I have known them three days.

Outside it will be cold. Drunks will sing. Cars will crash.

In that little cottage there will be truth, beauty, and—above all things—friends.

Morning banishes avatars. They fade like legends. We walked the mythic shores, once. We were that ragged band.

The epic ends, but this we keep: we were together, and loved.

The Great Adventure, Travel

I Run With a Glimmer Crowd

I run with a good crowd.

I run with bold-hearted creatures. They reach for life with its nails and its grime. They breathe it in.

Bars at night. The music starts to swing. We’re the ones who move with the sound. We don’t lean on walls and stare. My feet are untrained, I am no graceful dancer. Still I let go and shake the floor. We all do.

I run with priests and sinners. We wear our pasts as emblems. We do not hide our blood, but pour it on the ground: an offering. We are not the easy faithful with unbeaten love for gods. We’re the returners who went too far from shore, fought with titans and saw them win. And here we are.

The houses of the rich. My friends are noble hearted: not those who grasp it tight, who duck in fear. They look out at the world and call it in. We meet your friends, we talk to strangers. Have a bed, have some wine, take my hand.

And make a move.

The Heroic Life, Travel

The Eternal Refuge of the Traveler

Recently I wrote about the tragic joy of the Heroic Life:

You must accept that today may be your last experience. And you must love that truth. You must love that there may be nothing more: the moment is enough. It is sacred in itself.

My friend and host in Mexico, Mauricio Quintana, asked a vital question:

Do you ever get a rest or refuge from that? Is there a joyful joy of the Heroic Life?

Joyful Joy

I don’t think most people will live the Heroic Life for their entire lifetime.

Traveling freely, seeking challenges, and risking yourself to help others: this vision has selective appeal. Many people may want to live it for a few years, especially when they are young. Most of them will switch to a settled lifestyle. They might fall in love, start a family, or feel at home in one of the places they visit.

Their years traveling and adventuring will become a sun-bleached memory. The glory days when they were young.

This is right and as it should be. The point of the Heroic Life is to help you find your purpose in life. Once you find that, it may take you in a very different direction.

But some people will fall in love with the Heroic Life itself. Their purpose is aligned with that adventuresome road. These people will become the mentors and guides of younger folk picking up the mantle.

I suspect I am one of those people.

There are times when the life I’ve chosen is intimidating. It is, after all, a life of willfully seeking challenge. And I find refuge in two different sources.

Days of Peace

There are hard days and hard months. 33 hours of flights and airports while sick with food poisoning? That was a hard day. A full month of living along on a noisy, crowded street—that was a hard month.

But there are also times of immense peace. Mauricio’s flat is in a quiet, upper middle class district of Mexico City. I took a nap last week. With the warm sun on my face, I fell gently asleep.

I floated like a castle in the sky.

It is precious moments like this—moments of security, relaxation and peace, surrounded by friends—that take on extra meaning when traveling the road. These moments are not overwrought like vacations. They’re more like a sunny Sunday. They arise freely as you meet friends and share your purpose.

Everyone has days like this. When I worked in an office and had a busy itinerary, it was easy to overlook them. To the wandering adventurer they take on added sweetness. Like giving up a life of daily doughnuts and then enjoying a fresh pear.

The Eternal Refuge

I never relished my friends the way I do now. Specifically, a small number of people seem to be kindred spirits—they understand what I’m doing, and why. My lifestyle has meant saying goodbye to old friends who are fun to be around but don’t understand my calling. It also means meeting people who truly connect with what I do. That forms a stronger, more powerful bond than just being coworkers or going to school together.

Fellowship is the eternal refuge of the traveler.

I will part ways with friends many times on the great adventure, but fellowship on the road is an enduring source of joy. Like-minded and bold-hearted fellows are most soothing to the traveler’s soul.