My grandfather's printing shop, which still exists today in Detroit, is called 'Walker Printery,' after his own self-dubbed moniker. His name was Samuel Traison, but he added that mobile epithet to show that there was nothing he liked better than taking long strolls around town. Incidentally, he also died of a heart attack at 50.
I realized a few days ago that quite without meaning to, I'd picked up that family trait as an intrinsic part of my own character. Not the need to stroll, per se, but the feeling of being most alive while in motion. I say family trait because it's struck me on more than one occasion that for better or worse, I come from a family of wannabe nomads. My dad has his house in Michigan, but spends every weekend in Chicago, two weeks a month in Warsaw, and calls himself Northwest Airlines' number one customer for the number of times a year he graces their planes with his presence to wherever. Not a single member of my immediate family lives in the same city as another.
Holding true to this idea, my mom's side of the family is no less nomadic. Her father's great-great-great grandfather, or somewhere back there, was Rabbi Elimelech of Lejensk, one of the great early Hassidic rebbes known for wandering around eastern Europe spreading the good life with his wacky brother Zusha, an even bigger nomad. My own grandfather dragged his family halfway around the world in less than eight years from Israel to live in Switzerland to Uraguay and New York, while he made his own seasonal mad dashes to Africa.
I'm not really a nomad. I'm a wonderer and a wanderer and haven't yet managed to stay in a single place for more than a few days at a time, but I still like to have a solid home to come back to. Yet I have that travelers' itch, diagnosed as the need to go for the sake of going, symptoms the desire to be able to carry my home on my back and my body on my feet to show that my heart is still beating and my soul still burning.
I understood this the first time I read Jack Kerouac. I decided at the time to make him my virtual guru, not just because of the romantic image of the independent wanderer drinking port wine under a bridge and doing whatever he damn pleased, but because I saw in his approach to life a real understanding of how to live to the fullest. Maybe that sounds like a backward way to describe someone who died at 47 from alcohol-induced liver diseased, but the philosophy that I got out of Dharma Bums really changed my life. The philosophy to always be ready and willing to move on no matter how good things seem. To understand that the best time to continue ahead is just when the party is getting started, because even if that seems like a quick way to re-enter mundanity, it's really just one step closer to another adventure and a fuller life.
There doesn't seem to me to be a better way to live than to accept every experience with wide open arms and to be ready to let go without a moment's notice. There is nothing truer in life than impermanence, and there is no truer way of living than to recognize that each fleeting moment needs to be absorbed in fullest capacity.