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perspective — The Meaningful Traveler


The prison of habit

by Steve Brock on September 4, 2015

The prison of habits: Image of a roseBad habits are like prisons you don’t know you’re in. No clang of the slammer door. No jostling of keys. No sense of remorse or despair. No recognition that you’re even confined to something from which, if you were aware, you’d want to be released.

Good habits are equally unobtrusive in practice but more obvious in acquisition. They seem to build more slowly – thirty to forty days of consecutive action I’m told will get you a new one – and are harder to maintain. Bad habits, on the other hand, seem to get locked in overnight and with little if any effort. I routinely seem to fall into them as easy as stumbling into a ditch. Which is pretty much the same thing.

Take, for example, a former good habit, walking. I used to walk. Not just to get from place to place but because walking did something to and for me.

In France, Parisians are known for their flaneurie, the art of sauntering the boulevards of that great city. In Italy, each night couples and small groups emerge on their passeggiatta or evening stroll. The French and Italians know something I have forgotten: walking is more than the repeated placement of foot on pavement. Walking brings life.

But somewhere along the line, I seem to have misplaced that awareness. I lost the habit. I picked up another less noble one instead that seemed to think other forms of exercise sufficed. My new habit told me I didn’t have time just to walk for its own sake. It convinced me that I was too busy to find a crack in my avalanche of calls, meetings and deadlined deliverables to simply walk.

But today something changed.

I took a walk.

I was working from home and had an hour break between calls so off I went. Walking. Breathing in. Moving. Not specifically for exercise – that’s what the gym, biking and other activities are for, at least to me. Not to arrive anywhere. Not to accomplish anything. Merely to walk.

Along the way, I encountered a row of rose bushes. “I should stop and smell them,” I thought. But I didn’t. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the triteness of the expression constrained me. Or maybe I thought someone might see and think it odd. Or maybe, I’ve lost that habit as well.

As I arrived back home, I noticed that our own carpet rose bush, enveloped as it was in a helmet of brown petals, still had two clusters of pink. I walked over. Stopped. Bent down and sniffed.

The scent was faint yet still there. Enough to confirm the rewards of such a simple act as smelling. Enough to remind me that walking over to this plant – or walking in general – is worth it. Enough to make me reconsider my current habits…or simply to be more aware of them.

Maybe it is time for some new habits. Not the ones I fall into by neglect or indifference. But the ones I choose. Ones that matter. Ones that lead to freedom.

I’ll think about this on my next walk.

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The ache of ephemeral experiences

by Steve Brock on May 4, 2015

Murrow Drawing

Good Friday has come and gone this year. What I take from it is a story both overly recognizable and endlessly new.

What made this story of suffering, death and greater love so powerful this year was the use of sand painting during the Good Friday service at our church. As various pastors and elders read each of the final seven sayings of Christ on the cross, an artist created images of each scene using only her hands and sand. She poured and then spread the sand around a large glass plate while the image was projected onto a larger screen for the audience to see. Her “paintings” displayed great depth, texture and nuance.

The most powerful moment, to me, came when each reader finished his or her narration. The sand artist would then take this incredible work of art and, with a wave of her hand, erase it. One moment we were looking at a rendering of Jesus and the thief, side by side on their respective crosses. The next, steaks of sand shadowing the bright background.


Last week, I read about an artist, Ethan Murrow, whose drawings in graphite on paper were on display at the Winston Wachter Fine Art gallery in Seattle. My two sons and I were in the area, so we drove to the gallery to view the drawings. Phenomenal, both in technique and concept.

My favorite image of all was one called Wagon Train (shown above). I loved the subject matter but when I looked closely, I realized that Murrow hadn’t drawn this one on paper. Instead, according to our guide there, he had spent four days with a Sharpie drawing the image on one of the gallery walls. And when the show is over, they will, amazingly, just paint over this image (which, if on paper, would likely be sold in the $15,000 to $20,000 range).

One day, beautiful art. The next day, another painted wall.


I want to hold on to things of beauty. Make them last. Enjoy them over and over. But these two experiences, like certain moments on trips, inform me that there is another way.

Sometimes our greatest experiences are ephemeral. They are momentary, one-of-a-kind wonders that do not, cannot and were never meant to last.

For example, have you ever sat in a lovely restaurant or at a sidewalk café or on a bench overlooking some landscape and you find your heart catching in your throat because the scene, the moment is so beautiful? I have literally ached with a joyful sorrow in places where I never wanted to leave even as I knew I never could stay.

These ephemeral experiences are often some of our most poignant and meaningful. I find myself desperately wanting them to last even as I know that if they did, they would cease to be as special.

And so when confronted with art that disappears in minutes or days, a meal that lasts only as long as it takes to eat, a place where I can visit but not tarry or a person I can meet but not know deeply, I can simply give thanks and appreciate what I have experienced.

We need not possess something to be changed by it.




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Traveling in the dark – Part 1

by Steve Brock on March 28, 2014

Foggy RoadSeveral months ago, my family drove down to Bend, Oregon. We left the Seattle area after work, had dinner along the way and crossed the Columbia River just east of Portland.

By then, it was quite dark and our route – chosen by our trusty GPS on my phone – took us through what seemed like miles of twists and turns through Portland suburbs. Eventually, we found the highway – marked only by the street name, at least at first – that would take us to central Oregon.

I’d never gone this way before, so I had no idea what to expect. But one think I certainly did not plan on was the dense fog that soon began to engulf us.

In the limited visibility of the fog, we could just make out a string of rustic hotels and restaurants along the way, indicators we were nearing some sort of recreational area. I knew that Mount Hood was out in this general direction, and I wondered if these were places serving people as they traveled there.

By the time the buildings started to thin out, the fog lay like a dense blanket over the highway. It got to a point where for miles – scores of miles – we could barely make out the edges of trees lining the road. Occasionally, we could detect the dim glow of some light – we assumed for some building – as we passed. But with the exception of the occasional oncoming car, our entire world was a wall of gray illuminated by our headlights, the only distinguishing feature being the highway stripe down the center of the road.

As we drove, we were listening to a book on CD. And depending which of the three of us – me, my wife or my son – you asked, the fog made the story better…or too intense. We’d chosen a young adult fantasy from the library – the “Beyonders” series by Brian Mull – and at the densest point of our foggy journey where I actually considered pulling over due to limited visibility, the story got very suspenseful. We listened as the main character worked his way down hidden passages to find a book covered in human skin with a live eye that suddenly opened on its cover.

“Cool!” said I. “Ewwww! Creepy!” said my wife. “Shhhhh!” said my son.

After several more miles of this, we saw a haze of lights off to our left, evidently some sort of industrial space. Orange lights glowed from apparent towers and spotlights attempted to cut through some other area, with limited success. It was bizarre to see and, I’m sure influenced by the book we were listening to, our general consensus was that it was a staging area for an alien invasion. That seemed the obvious choice from its appearance in the fog.

You never know…

Eventually, about fifty miles from our destination, the fog lifted. But the night was so dark and we were so far from any town that the visibility only increased marginally. We still had no idea what was around us.

Journeying with limited senses changes your perception of travel itself. Driving for several hours with so few visual cues was initially novel, then a bit scary and finally, a new normal. It’s funny how something like fog can take a routine experience and radically change it.

But it wasn’t until we returned home via the same route in reverse a few days later that we realized how truly amazing our journey through the fog had been…

To be continued…

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I don’t get it

by Steve Brock February 22, 2014

We don’t always know the meaning of our trips at the time. Sometimes just getting home is meaning enough.

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The one less traveled – Part 2

by Steve Brock January 17, 2014

A journey to Arches National Park reveals that it’s not the way most or least traveled that matters, but how you respond to the path you’ve chosen.

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It’s a smaller world – Part 1

by Alan Noble October 24, 2013

Editor’s Note: I’ve asked my friend Alan Noble to share some of his experience of living in Nairobi, Kenya. Alan and I worked together years ago at World Vision, the international Christian relief and development organization where Alan still is employed. This is the first of three parts. How does one write about an event […]

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The best trip

by Steve Brock October 16, 2013

The best trip may not be the most exotic, the longest or the most anticipated. It may, in fact, be much closer than any of those.

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