The metaphor of life as journey is common. When we talk about ‘two paths’ that ‘diverged in a wood’ we know that Frost was talking about the life journey and only incidentally narrating a stroll through the woods.
I have been reflecting on that journey for the last day. And I find myself wondering about the metaphor. I find the metaphor troubling. Troubling because it is too comforting. Life as journey wraps the experience of living in an unsatisfactory cocoon of certainty.
When we think of journeys nowadays, we experience them as they exist now, transformed by the certainties of the modern age. We have certain starting points, fixed end points, mapped roads and ready built airports. We have real-time communications with our destinations. A modern day journey is as adventurous (in the first world) as slicing bread. As a result, they are on average as uniquely unchallenging as journeys have ever been in the history of human travel.
We have banished the uncertainties that made a journey akin to life. We have not (alas) banished the uncertainties of life.
If life is a journey, then that journey must now be understood by parable. Travel has always historically been capricious and changeable. The closest parable to that journey that I can find is the Israelites wondering through the desert for forty years in search of the promised land.
A journey where you are alienated from everything left behind, the present is the hostile ever present risks of being stuck in a desert, have only the vaguest idea of where you are going, are seduced into worshipping false gods and where death heralds the entry into the promised land is a profoundly honest reflection of the true nature of life’s journey.