Some one once said “Travel broadens the mind,” a testosterone-charged male friend of mine was overheard to say that whoever that was, had it wrong, that it really was, “Travel brings to mind different broads.”
What travel does, even at its most glamorous and costly, is take us out of the cocoon of our routine and thrust us into places and circumstances both new, exciting and sometimes even threatening or dangerous. That’s why we do it. There is built into each one of us a sense of discovery.
And for many in Australia, the journey to life here has been one of sadness, confusion, fear, even boredom, often mixed with ever-present danger. The first white settlers experienced all of the above and more. Many subsequent “New Australians” had even worse in both the circumstances left behind and the method of arrival. The life of a refugee is one of continuing uncertainty and a battle for survival.
Some of my relatives by marriage have been refugees from Afghanistan. The tortuous encounters with environment, people and bureaucrats make for stories which we regular citizens living relatively consistent and predictable lives would find impossible to countenance or survive. These are extraordinary people.
Threatened because of family status, or by a change of government regime, they flee leaving everything except what they are wearing and what they can reasonably carry. With no certainty of food or shelter. It is impossible to even imagine. Yet there are many on the streets of our capital cities each night who are the same. Refugees within their own country.
The early life of Jesus, the teller of parables, whose birth we really do celebrate at Christmas, was that of a refugee. The local paranoid king, hearing from some astrologers that another king had been born, decreed that all male children in the area should be killed –he wanted no rivals, even baby ones.
Jesus parents were given advance warning by an angel, and fled as refugees to another country. Only later when the child had grown and the king was dead did they make the return trip. Even as a child this must have left an indelible impression on the mind of Jesus. When we meet him as an adult in the stories, he travels light and appears to have no continuing earthly property. Even in adulthood he lives in his mind as a refugee.
He saw his physical travels as a spiritual journey. As one which led in his vision to an inevitable death, but he also saw far beyond that even which must encompass us all. He saw that his journey was to both experience the common unavoidable nature of death and to then prepare a place beyond it for those who had the courage to become fellow refugees- who realized that this world even at its best is only transitory.
In that light, we are all going to be refugees in the final analysis. That somewhat depressing thought of a journey in the six-foot box which enables no possessions, no valuables, no drinking buddies. It is only us and who we are, on the journey. Yet even here, the understanding of one who has gone before should encourage us. Because the visionary Hebrew poet wrote, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The journey is not just an eternal darkness, it is something unexpected and amazing.
Is it possible that to paraphrase the words of Wendy in Peter Pan, “Death is the last exciting adventure?”