Isolation: the opposite of travel?

With the Corona-virus keeping many of us isolated or indoors, I’ve been back pondering what good news there is in all this for travellers, and the travel industry.

In many ways, the industry is being decimated, day by day, as this continues. Small airlines are weekly being put into administration, travel companies are packing up and even most normal summer holidays plans are now in doubt for many of us too. Is the virus then, the antipathy of travel?

My last sunset on the road, before heading back for weeks in the house.

Is the virus the antipathy of travel?

Perhaps, in some ways. But as writer Marcel Proust (and later Alain de Botton) have reminded us, we daren’t harbour ‘travel’ as the ultimate goal, or else it will destroy us (particularly in times like these). Proust is famous in his writings, for deliberately isolating himself at times in one room, and still taking us on an incredible traverse of thinking, imagination and creativity, that leaves us marveling at the tiny subsection of the world around us. One could possibly, he claims, be more satisfied within a small room, than a world explorer is with the whole world at our fingertips.

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them us.

Marcel Proust, The Remembrance of things Past (translated, Moncrieff)

And that’s striking exactly what the Christian good news also says. We can visit other strange lands and still not learn or grow, depending on how we view our travels. Travel ought not be our ultimate goal, or else we’ll be broken by it when it’s not freely available. We ought not be bored, even if we were stuck in isolation, if we view things well.

I’m fairly sure self-isolation could happen on beaches like this, in mountain ranges and other stunning location – but the feeling of wanting to be of use to less able members of the community, mean that I largely stay in the city to help.

By a lonely prison wall…

But it’s also different to what the Christian good news says. What Proust is left with, is looking inwards to ourselves, in order to view the vastness of the world, and glimpse the diamond through different lights. Not only do we struggle to do this (just think about how quickly we “other”/distance any viewpoints that are different to ours in the world), but looking within to find true vision and imagination for life, is shrinking your universe to a prison cell. Or so Rebecca McLaughlin would have us believe….

The fact that Proust actively chose to self-isolate in a cork-lined room (to help protect him from the noise and outside world) may baffle many of us at this stage in our virus-strewn world:

“…it was my intention to resume the next day, but this time with a purpose, a solitary life.   So far from going into society, I would not even permit people to come and see me at home during my hours of work, for the duty of writing my book took precedence now of that of being polite or even kind.”

Marcel Proust

But ultimately Proust came up with great works of art, which captivate many like myself today. So perhaps it was worth it?

So as you isolate or socially distance yourself from others in the weeks ahead, I hope we can soon look through any boredom, any temptation to pick up your phone again (for the hundredth time) to scroll, to instead see the world with eyes that aren’t our own. And ultimately, it is my dream, that we would all see through the eyes of the maker of the universe, who can give us infinite glimpses beyond what we could ever muster from within. It is only through His eyes, that we can escape our rather warped, lopsided views of reality.

And that’s what I invite us to do as we #travelintandem – in the corner of our bedrooms, in the chaos of virus-affected-life, and in the bizarre moments we stop scrolling to think.

The beach at Kilmore Quay, County Wexford, Ireland

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