There are so many different people and languages and suitcases and mixed up schedules, and miss-timed flights in airports that they can only be international territory. You can’t distinguish a country until you leave the airport. When I flew to Newcastle last year, I had a three hour layover in London, but I never left the terminal.
I waited.Why do we find traveling to be so incredibly, psychologically exhausting? Is it because as the world changes, and we lose the props and supports which made up our lives, we find out just how unstable our individuality is, and how much it depends on the tree on the street corner and the peeling paint on an open window, and the old Christmas lights seen again, and again, and again? For three hours I sat in an in-between world where the international community, fully represented, narrowed and condensed until no outside world existed. I could have vanished in that airport. To have the whole world bottled up in such a tiny space; I could have disappeared into it forever.
I got out a book, to distract myself. I read fiction to remember who I was. I am astounded by how quickly the world changes.
For a month I did vanish. Just off the coast of the North Sea, on the banks of the Tyne River, is the old Roman supply base to the seventeen forts on Hadrian’s Wall. The wall, which runs for eighty miles from coast to coast was the original barrier between Roman Britannia and the Scottish highlands.People come up north to spend a week, walking the wall, from one side of England to the other.
If they made it, they often came out of their way down to our fort. They would walk down to the cliffs leaning out over the gray waters and, having conquered England, looked out across the world and let their minds expand to the capacity of their surroundings. They wondered what ships had landed on that beach below them under a cold spray of salt.
They wondered what sentinel torches had flickered along those cliffs. They wondered who had stood just there, upon that hill and felt that same breeze before them.A continuing excavation is kept up at the Arbeia supply base. Volunteer teams come into the small town which sprang up around the fort.
Behind them the gates of the world close, and the currents of time melt into the river which encloses the fort to the north and west, and the ocean to the east, and the volunteers plunge into the ever deepening past. For one month we scraped away stones and dust 2,200 years old. There had been a fire in c.
A.D. 300 and from the resulting layer of carbon came preserved buckles, a chain mail shirt, a set of stirrups, a woman’s copper brooch. The day we found a roughly carved inscription, a vanished stonemason’s signature, was the most exciting day of the trip.
How magnificently extraordinary their routine lives were to us.I wonder if I ‘took anything away with me’ from that venture. Aside, that is, from the small stones and bits of mortar from the granary wall we had to knock down which I smuggled in a baseball cap through customs. I think, instead, that I left a piece of the individual back there, tucked between the cracks of the ancient walls and sifted into the dust on the road which had been there for 2,200 years.That’s why it hurts so much to leave a place, or a person, or close a book. One doesn’t carry that acknowledgement of the magnificent with them, they leave it behind; a bit of the soul caught among the treetops, or between the pages of a book. There it becomes intrinsically entwined with the story of that place and so becomes immortal. There is can be tapped years and years later, when someone wonders who stood just there before them. One’s recourse then, is to see the immensity and the brilliance of everyday life; to watch the stars, to count the sunsets, to take note of the routine. Thus are pieces of the soul established enduringly around the world and throughout humanity. It will be in the most surprising and unexpected places that they return.
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