I’ve been re-reading Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, and it is as mysterious to me now as it was 40 years ago. Morrison always makes you work. She prefers metaphor to clarity — why did Son hide in the closet for three days? She is a little disdainful of me — why is she so obviously withholding clues about why Michael won’t visit his parents? Morrison wants you to consider some hard questions, but she isn’t going to answer them for you or to make it easy for you to answer them yourself. For your effort, however, she offers wisdom — not necessarily hers, which is abundant, but your own. I mention all of this because I think I got a little bit of wisdom from Tar Baby.
Before I get to the Tar Baby wisdom part, here’s some context. I’ve been writing Camino Milagro postings since 2014, when I first decided to travel without a purpose or a home. Originally, Camino Milagro was a way of keeping in touch with friends and family who might be curious about where I was or what I was doing. Before long, it became the little bird on my shoulder, telling me to pay more attention, to talk to people whose lives were different from mine, to find the joy behind the pain. Writing has helped me understand how travel has enriched my life in ways I never expected, and also to understand that I’ve ever only just scratched the surface.
Like all good things, writing comes with a cost. I’ve known all along that writing about personal experiences, however relatable I try to make them, is a narcissistic exercise. I shouldn’t expect anyone to care that I walked along a castle wall in Wales or rode a nameless horse in Mongolia. Thank you if and when you did, but my compulsion to write about me can be oddly uncomfortable.
There are other issues. Just as writing makes me more attentive, it also interferes with my experience. Sometimes I am thinking about what to write instead of being in the moment. Being an observer is being an outsider, safe but not life.
But Tar Baby….I’m rambling on about all of this because I’m about to take off on what is likely to be my last journey as a nomad. I’m going to Spain for a month, where my journey began in 2014. And I am not going to write about it! The fact that I’m not going to write about it isn’t important to anyone but me. But the reason is important to all of us. And that’s the wisdom I learned from Tar Baby:
”At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens -that letting go – you let go because you can. The world will always be there – while you sleep it will be there – when you wake it will be there as well. So you can sleep and there is reason to wake. A dead hydrangea is as intricate and lovely as one in bloom. Bleak sky is as seductive as sunshine, miniature orange trees without blossom or fruit are not defective; they are that. So the windows of the greenhouse can be opened and the weather let in. The latch on the door can be left unhooked, the muslin removed, for the soldier ants are beautiful too and whatever they do will be part of it.”
Letting go…one of the keys to the kingdom.