“What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world. We get into a habit of thinking, this is the world, but it’s not true at all. The real world is a much deeper and darker placer than this, and much of it is occupied by jellyfish and things.”—Haruki Murakami1
We were on vacation and had gone away to a cabin by the sea for a weekend. After we had been in Norway for three weeks, the sun had still not set, and I had not slept. I was starting to contemplate my return to my home in the U.S., where, to put it mildly, I had not left my life in good standing and would soon have to fix it.
It was late, and my family was asleep in the prim, stark cabin. I went outside to avoid waking them up. Past midnight, the arctic sun gave a cold, almost diffused glow—like it was being lit from the end of a tunnel. Moored on the docks near our cabin were rowboats. I climbed down into one and cast off.
I didn’t row too far—just floated. I worried about returning home and picking up a life that seemed farther away than ever. With the white glow and alien landscape, I worried that if I went farther, the light would grow and the land would shrink until there was nothing but merciless white. I worried about life on the brink of the unknown, life at the edge of the world.
The sky was cold, bright, and empty; my family was asleep; the salty water was motionless. I twirled my fingers in the icy water and stared down into the sea. I noticed the subtle variation in texture and color that marked, I soon discovered, the jellyfish.
There were hundreds of them beneath my boat—dark pink, suspended, and motionless.
I laughed. I am terrified of jellyfish. And yet, there they were, Norwegian jellyfish, of all things! I admired them, so close to me, but a watery world away—my own fellow beings thriving in this impossible place.
I wasn’t so frightened about returning home to who-knows-what after that.
Haruki Murakami says of traveling that “beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop.”2
I love traveling. It creates thousands of strange moments like this, perfectly vivid and frozen in glass. These moments remind me that not only is it impossible to run away from life, but it is desirable to run to it. Run to moments you never thought you would experience and to people you never thought you would meet, to places where no matter how strange things are, there’s always an element of the familiar, places where you can explore and map yourself and the world you inhabit.
So go find the edges of your world, and then you can travel past them.
1Hall, Stephen. The Raw Shark Texts. US: Canongate, 2008.172
2Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. US: Random House Digital, Inc. 2006. 416
Explore the culture and natural surroundings of three Norwegian cities highlighted here.