One of the few advantages of living on my own over the last six months is that I’ve been able to form a support bubble with my parents. The other day, I went over to see my mum. It was Sunday, and I’d spent the morning catching up on some school work, and after a long run ’round the lake, I lay on the bed in my brother’s old room to watch a film on his TV. Back to the Future had just started on Sky One, so I pushed my feet up against the radiator and turned up the volume. I was in my happy place.
I’ve always loved that room. Once upon a time it was actually my room, but in the years before he moved out, it was my brother Steve’s, and when we both still lived at home we’d always watch at least one show together in there. It was “our thing”. More recently, I’ve used that room as a place to which I retreat, every so often, when things get a little stressful, or whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. The comfort I feel, lying on my brother’s bed on a warm Sunday evening, watching an old favourite from when I was a kid… well, it’s virtually unrivalled. To have a place like that, a place you can call home, even if you no longer live there, is something for which I am truly grateful. My mum has not had an easy life, in many respects, but the home she has created of that house is a monumental achievement.
Anyway, as I lay there, and as day turned to dusk, and dusk turned to night, a light appeared on the wall beside the bed. It took the form of a white rectangle—a reflection (or projection?) of the windowpane, illuminated by the streetlamp that stands in front of the bushes outside Number 5. I paused the film and looked at the patch of light on the wall of my brother’s bedroom, and just stared for a while, marvelling at its simple geometric beauty, and thinking how grateful I am for this house, and this home, and for being alive on a warm Sunday evening after completing a nice long run, which made my legs ache, and caused my skin to seep salty sweat that dripped into my eyes.
I don’t know why, but at that point, I felt compelled to reach for my phone – is there a time when we don’t feel compelled to reach for our phone these days? – and I took a photo of the white rectangle of light, before spending the next ten minutes tweaking it, while Marty McFly and Doc Brown waited, frozen, on the screen of my brother’s TV.
Later, as I looked at the image, I thought about how that white rectangle could’ve been a portal. For the previous couple of weeks, the kids in my class had been writing portal stories, so I guess it made sense that this might occur to me, even though this is probably a weird thing for a 42-year-old man to think about—though not, perhaps, as weird as this, what I’m writing now, or the fact that I still go back to my mum’s house and spend the evening watching films from the 80s in my brother’s old bedroom. Either way, I couldn’t help wondering where such a portal would take me.
At first, I thought about going back in time, and undoing some of the mistakes I’d made. But then I thought about the implications for the space-time continuum, and realised I wasn’t ready to deal with that. Besides, if I hadn’t made those mistakes, I’d never have learned the lessons they taught me, right? Also, I’d have to tell you what those mistakes were, and we don’t know each other that well just yet.
Instead, I thought about all the different places I might go. There are so many places I’d love to visit right now—real places, I mean, both the places I’ve been – New York, Paris, Barcelona – and those I haven’t. I miss the cities and I miss the mountains and I miss the seaside, and I would happily jump through a portal to any of those locations right now. But then I realised that would cut out a key part of the experience: the journey itself. Because not only do I miss those places, I miss travelling to them. I miss getting on a plane. I miss taking the coach to the airport. I miss riding the metro and I miss waiting for taxis. Hell, I even miss boarding a ferry, which just goes to show, because those things always make me feel sick.
Right now, it seems like the luxury of travel is being taken away from us—or at least being made far more difficult, almost to the point of impossibility. And if I’m honest, I don’t consider travel to be a luxury; I consider it a necessity. What’s that Mark Twain quote? “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Yeah. And not to turn this into a quote-fest, but there’s another one I like, from St. Augustine: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
As I stared at the white rectangle on the wall, I hoped – as I hope now – that I’d get to read a few more pages of that book before too long, and feel the rush of being someplace else. In the meantime, I decided to settle for the comfort of my brother’s bedroom, on a warm Sunday evening, watching a film I’d seen at least six times before. It was a good compromise.