May the Road Rise to Meet You
May you succeed on the road;
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may you be held safe and secure in the palm of God’s hand.
– Irish blessing (adapted)
In the time this Irish blessing was written, some attribute it to St. Patrick, going on a journey of any distance was a dangerous proposition. People usually traveled in groups to protect against thieves who might lie in wait to attack around a corner or along a darkened wooded path. Most people stayed close to home. They lived their entire lives within a few miles of the place where they were born. Few were the travelers or the adventurers who might ever meet someone who didn’t speak the same language or look or dress like them. They knew little of the world beyond their village, unless conscripted to fight in a war against a neighbor. Precious few got on boats to sail to open ocean beyond the harbor where they fished.
So different is the world we live in today. I doubt there are any people reading this who haven’t traveled outside of New York State – at least to the Berkshires or Vermont. Most of us have been to New York City or Boston. Many of us have traveled to Canada. Owning a car makes such a trip so simple and easy. Most of us have flown in airplanes or sailed on a boat. A few of us have traveled to places half a world away like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, India, New Zealand and Australia as well as Africa, the Middle East , The Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe and the British Isles. Not only have we traveled for leisure and work but also many of us have lived in other places too.
So the idea of a journey to some remote destination can seem almost ordinary and routine. Yet even in today’s modern world where we experience the diversity of people from all over the world living close together, that experience of embarking on a journey can still have great personal significance.
That was true for me when, at age 20 sitting in a Ponderosa Steak House by myself, I decided to drop out of my junior year of college and begin a journey of self-discovery. Overhearing a couple at a nearby table discussing an enjoyable weekend trip from Newark, Delaware to Norfolk, Virginia by plane caused something inside me to shift. My perspective on life got just a bit bigger. There was more to life than the small college town where I had grown up. The thought of spending the rest of my life there felt way too confining. There was more life to live and I wanted to experience it.
So I dropped out of the University of Delaware, said goodbye to my parents and younger sister, bought a two week rail pass, and got on an Amtrak train going west, not knowing where I was going but with a few friends to stop and visit on the way. “Go west, young man!” Echoed in my ears.
That train trip began a journey that, in a sense, I am still on many years later. The outer journey ended in Palo Alto, California where I began looking for work as an electronics technician. The inner journey of self-discovery making my way on my own in the world kept going.
I remember how both thrilling and poignant it was beginning my train ride and looking out the window as we passed the large field behind our house next to the tracks. All of my childhood I had played in that field and the woods between it and my house. I had watched so many trains rush by carrying unknown people to unknown destinations. Now I was one of those people on one of those trains. While I didn’t know where I would end up, there was enormous possibility before me. And there was a little concern too about my safety on this trip. No cell phones with Google Maps or Airbnb in 1977.
In the surveillance state with cameras everywhere and smart phones in everyone’s pocket, I wonder what it would be like for someone to repeat what I did in 2019. Every corner of the globe now has cell phone coverage. Yet the inner journey, the process of self-discovery can be as challenging now as it has ever been. Our technology has greatly improved but the way our minds work hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. Yes the content is quite different but the processes of the mind are quite similar around the globe.
Many of us begin our journeys through life seeking our uniqueness, individual talents and gifts. In the maturing phase of that journey, may we discover, more and more, how much we have in common with everyone else. That journey leads away from our individuality and toward a sense of connection with the whole, a sense of unity of being with all life.
May you have success traveling your road, supported by wind, sun and rain, safe and secure until you find your way home again.