Living in the now

Living in the Now

Gulf of Thailand

There are no icebergs in the Gulf of Thailand, but at any given moment there is, in this and many other seas, someone thinking about the Titanic—or at least about Leonardo Dicaprio.

I almost didn’t take this photograph. For most of three hours I had been lying on a bench on deck, seeking out that elusive position where a severely herniated disc wouldn’t make me wish there were icebergs in the Gulf of Thailand. On top of my physical pain, there was the psychological terror of knowing I still had 20 hours before I reached Bangkok – 20 hours of ship, bus, and train, some of that with 75 pounds of cargo hanging from my shoulders. Only the day before did I come out of a 17-hour gala of agony in which it felt like a herd of elephants had collapsed on my lower back. The possibility of returning to that state somewhere between here and Bangkok was all too real.

I was alone on this portion of deck except for two German university students on a three-week holiday to Thailand. Feeling eight times their age (and almost eight times my own) as I navigated my bad back on the bench, we didn’t engage each other that much. But when the girls turned giddy as they conspired in German to reenact the Titanic bow scene, I eased myself into an upright position and grabbed my camera. The bow was off limits to passengers—the girls seemed unaware of this—and I thought the expression on their faces would be priceless when the captain roared out the window from the bridge above us.

But the better picture, I think, is the one I’m posting here. Taken three seconds before the captain got the bridge window open to commence his roar, I love how it seems to capture the feeling of youth, freedom, and lightheartedness. It was a fleeting moment in time that will never be repeated.

By the end of the week they would be back in university, and the week after that I would be on an operating table in Bangkok. Two years have passed since then, and I imagine their Thailand experience, like my pain, now feels pretty distant. As the wise old narrator in Wendell Berry’s book Hannah Coulter says as she looks back on her life:

You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind.

And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.

(Note: Wendell Berry’s novels, though not travel writing per se, are some of the best books I’ve read because of how they speak about values, community, and remembering. Concerning the idea of living in the now, many have found Ekhart Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment helpful.)

Posted by | Comments (5)  | February 25, 2010
Category: General, Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind

5 Responses to “Living in the now”

  1. Hugh Says:

    I’m not familiar with Wendell Berry, but I love this quote and will check him out. I have read The Power of Now and it is definitely thought-provoking, one of those books that takes you months to read and re-read.

  2. Deanna Says:

    i love this picture, thanks so much for sharing it. like you said, it captures the light heartedness of youth, and care-free fun.

  3. Rebecca Travel-Writers-Exchange Says:

    Great post! It’s true that we only have the now. But it’s fun to go back to our past travels and relive them like they were yesterday. It’s possible!

  4. Jaime Mintun Says:

    As a permanent traveler these past six months, I’ve become well acquainted with the deliciousness and the terror of being a solo traveler. I just found your site today and am overjoyed. Your candid, transparent writing is refreshing and this picture speaks of so much. Most of all, I’ve fallen in love with your quotes and book recommendations. Eckhart Tolle has a fantastic website full of inspiring videos to help presence of mind and spirit. I think you’d enjoy it.

    Thank you for sharing yourself.

  5. Stephanie Says:

    Love this – I have countless pictures of myself in that spot, on a ferry to/from Koh Phangan/Koh Tao/Koh Samui, and I love those photos for reminding me of exciting things I’ve done, beautiful places I’ve seen, and most of all – they’re a reminder of where I am now 🙂 Great post!