The Infinite Wonders of Our Everyday World
Last week I shared the tale of my impromptu Earth Day cherry-blossom-viewing pilgrimage, which transported me unexpectedly from my hometown in northern California to the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. That story seemed to strike a chord with readers, who responded with dozens of kind and buoying comments. Thank you so much! Your words were tremendously inspiring!
Those responses propelled another three-lesson journey this week, which took me around the world without ever leaving my room! Here’s the story of that unexpected bloom.
Lesson #1: It’s a small world after all
As I read the responses from readers, I was reminded anew of one great lesson my travels always renew: that wherever we may live, whatever our differences in background and belief, we share a need for wonder, and hope, and dream. Melissa in Cape Town wrote that after reading my tale, she was transported around the globe by her banana and lemon trees. Margie in Arizona shared the celebratory news that her saguaro cacti were beginning to bloom. For Ruth in Tel Aviv, three pebbles from Shikoku’s Iya Valley had become her precious portal to the peace of Japan. Other readers wrote from Australia to California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.
Reading these, I thought: My cherry blossom is your saguaro cacti is your lemon tree. Each is a tile in the mosaic of our shared humanity. And it is soul-soothing and heart-expanding to feel this global embrace, especially now as we all shelter in place.
Lesson #2: That small world contains infinite wonders
As I was being transported around the world through these readers’ words, I discovered a homespun site that offers a similarly mind-expanding visual ride. This is the post-quarantine Facebook group “View from my window,” created for home-bound members to post a photo of their everyday view. The result is a breathtaking lesson in the size and variety of our globe, and the extraordinary breadth of what “everyday” holds.
Scrolling through the page, I saw a British backyard basking in blue and golden blooms and an Illinois field flowing with freshly fallen snow, a sky-swirling sunrise pasteling Palau and skyscrapers sizzling in dusk-lit Singapore, snow-tipped peaks in Peru and sun-drenched beaches in Brazil, cobbled piazzas in Italy and blue-green bays in Guadeloupe. I saw deer and elk and cockatoos, llamas and lambs and kangaroos. And as I learned last week, I thought anew that stopping and really seeing is the essential clue.
These world-spanning views brought home another truth I always re-learn when I’m far away: how one person’s exotic is another person’s everyday. On my last trip to Athens, a humble meal of bread, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese tasted to me like a gourmet feast. My first morning in Siem Reap, a bicycle pilgrimage to Angkor Wat turned into a dog-dodging, puddle-spraying, mud-spinning magical mystery trot. On my most recent visit to Cusco, exploring the bustling central market—from pyramids of passion fruit to guinea pigs on a grill, rainbow-colored corn to so much more—became an exhilarating immersion in the daily rites of Peruvian life.
Wherever I travel, I marvel that the things I am experiencing—invigorating cities, poignant sites, spectacular landscapes, palate-popping delights—are the everyday reality of people who live in that place. It’s a truth I’ve learned in reverse with the Golden Gate Bridge. I drive over that orange icon every few days—but I’ve met countless visitors who have journeyed halfway around the planet with reverence due for a once-in-a-lifetime, time-stopping view.
Lesson #3: Those wonders are within us too
Yesterday, as I was again window-view-wandering the world, I happened upon a photo of Balinese rice paddies, and this triggered another memory. I had to search through my journals, but after some planetary page-flipping, I came upon the passage I was seeking, from a journey to Bali in 2012 to speak at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. I wrote this at the end of a week on the island, when that sacred place bestowed an unexpected grace:
On the day of my departure, I walked back through the rice fields, feeling singularly content. I had gotten to do just about everything I had been hoping to do on Bali, I was thinking. There was just one exception—I hadn’t heard a gamelan orchestra. I’d caught snatches of gamelan music at a couple of different performances during the festival, but I hadn’t had that soul-transporting immersion in the music that I remembered vividly from my first trip to Indonesia 34 years before.
Just as I was having these thoughts, approaching the end/beginning of the path, the sounds of a gamelan orchestra drifted on the air! I could hardly believe it—it was as if my thoughts had conjured those notes.
I reached the end of the path. To my right was the wide, paved driveway that led to the main street, but then I noticed to my left a narrow, hard-packed dirt path that paralleled a rock wall twice my height. The sounds of the gamelan were coming from somewhere beyond that wall. The wall disappeared into a densely vegetated interior, with a couple of red-tiled roofs visible in the distance. I figured that if I followed the path, eventually it would lead to a break in the wall where I could enter and discover the source of the gamelan music. I wanted to see the orchestra with my own eyes.
So I set off down this winding path, following the sinuous curve of the wall and the music’s tantalizing rise and fall.
I startled two workers who were on their way to restore a magnificent old house set among the paddies on the other side of a stream that paralleled the trail. They laughed and welcomed me to the forest. After 15 minutes of ambling, I came to a lush setting where palm trees, twining vines, giant ferns, and slick bushes with propeller-like leaves tangled the air. Still, there was no break in the wall, and the gamelan music was sounding fainter and fainter.
I stood in the shade of that jungly patch, puzzling over what to do, wondering if I would ever find the break in the wall when suddenly it hit me: I had already found the break in the wall; it was in my mind. Listen! I didn’t need to see the orchestra—my wish had been to hear the gamelan. And there it was, all around me. What more did I want?
I walked back down the path and the sounds of the music swelled in the shadowed air. When I reached a point where it seemed loudest of all, I stopped and closed my eyes. Gongs, flutes, and drums gonged and trilled and boomed in layered patterns, lapidary high notes skipped like diamonds across a pond, bong-gong-gong-booming low notes reverberated in my ribs, rising and falling and rising, staccato and slow, each note like a drop of water from heaven, submerging me in a pool of otherworldly harmony. Time stopped.
After a while—ten minutes? twenty?—the music ceased, and the forest echoed with its silence.
Then the harmonies flowed anew, and suddenly I felt released. It was time to move on; I had a taxi to catch, a plane to board.
I realized that all day I had been regretting my imminent departure, despairing at having to lose this blessed place. Now Ubud had answered that need, bestowing one last lesson that would allow me to leave: I didn’t need to see the gamelan to hear its music, and I didn’t need to be in Bali to have Bali in me. It was already there, gonging and trilling and booming, rice paddy blooming, and it always would be.
I set my journal down and reflected once again that the wide world’s wonders are everywhere, without and within. The glories of the gamelan surrounded me anew, and I closed my eyes, to savor the view.
Yours in abiding wanderlust,
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If you want the glories of the gamelan to surround you, listen below:
Thank you to all who have shared thoughts and words of encouragement with me; I truly appreciate it. Please continue to share your thoughts below; it’s such a treat to read your comments!