Occasionally, when traveling abroad, I feel a deep unease about my role as ‘tourist.’ The pleasure-seeking heart of sight-seeing and experience-having can often seem superficial, shallowed by a stance of non-commitment to holy people, places, and moments. Passing through as an observer brings about a unique sense of loneliness – with further immersion into an unfamiliar life-world, deeper alienation follows.
Somewhere primal I sense a quiet, persistent responsibility – a promise – to care for the small wonders that find their way into my circle of experience. Opening myself up to the flow of the sublime in a place I can claim no ownership in – not in carrying forward its culture, not in contributing to its material or social fabric, not in sharing in its concerns and crises and celebrations – has been a somewhat violent process that steals any sense of purpose and belonging. Only the ego, detached and impenetrable, remains.
Perhaps this is too narrow a vision. There are larger circles – the human condition, patterns of community, justice, love – in which I can confidently place a kind of faithfulness. But are these dimensions meaningful without their ‘lower’ foundations? Whatever the answer, I find myself mourning for what is lost in abstraction, and wondering what makes up the living atoms, the indivisible relations, apart from which meaningful existence is all but impossible.