Fifty years ago on September 20, 1967 a naïve young woman boarded the Spanish freighter, Mar Egeo, at a New Orleans wharf for a two-week voyage to Barcelona, and a new life. Alone, with little money and no skills in Spanish – the only language of the crew and the other two passengers – she was on her way, blindly, to meet up with a former boyfriend who had simply made her a promise she couldn’t refuse: “Come to Spain,” he said, “and I’ll write poetry on your breast.”
What romantic young woman wouldn’t go? Especially during a time young people were told they could do anything they wanted to, and for better or worse, on the heels of the “Summer of Love” they gained the freedom to do it.
Leaving behind her big, close Catholic family, the young woman had no idea what she’d find on the other end, where else she would go, how she would live or support herself, or how long she would be gone. Prompted only by the prevailing winds, she and the boyfriend would spend five and a half years in a sometimes life-threatening, and always life-altering, vagabonding odyssey through thirty-two countries.
Serendipity and daring prevailed, and in the days long before cell phones, and when long-distance calls were prohibitively expensive, she would get airmail letters from home at post office General Delivery addresses in countries where she stayed long enough to receive them, as her mother prayed her around the world.
It was a life she couldn’t have imagined before.
Through it all, she would have a wonderful and terrible romance, experience magnificent beauty and the ugly underbelly of life. She would have her mind phenomenally expanded and her heart crushed. She would be daring and confident, and soul-shaking afraid.
She would know life’s best and its worst. Her spirit would weaken but then grow immeasurably stronger. She would meet and have a face-off with Life at its least common denominator and boldest high, and she would learn the limitless boundaries of her will.
She would be immersed in the study of Yoga in its birthplace, and both its tenets and practice would provide her with guidelines and sustenance for the rest of her life.
From this odyssey, she would take wisdom that she recognized even unto her very cells. She would live basically, often with little more than what her Army surplus backpack would hold. In journeying they would hitchhike, ride in dilapidated buses, the backs of open trucks, and third-class Indian trains. They would eat what the natives of the various countries ate, sleep in cheap pensions, hostels, on train station platforms, desert sands, and on the lawn of the Taj Mahal. She would learn what real poverty was and experience the beginning of compassion.
Most importantly perhaps is that she would know herself as part of the whole, and understand beyond doubt that in this interconnectedness there was nothing she could do or say, nothing she could even think or feel that would not affect in some way, some individuals, or even the tenor of the world. She would learn that she could at times be the “observing self” and detach from her ego to grasp the bigger picture and act from that perspective. She would come to understand that the only meaning life has is the meaning we give to it, and she would know truly the mission of her life: to love, to learn, and to share the gifts of both.
It was many lifetimes after her return to the USA, in 2016, that she would share the true story of it all in a book called SLEEPING BETWEEN THE RAILS: A Woman’s Odyssey. It was so named because of her experience in India, where the gross overpopulation causes thousands of its people to sleep on the streets and anywhere there is a relatively flat surface. Yet when she noticed a sign in a Calcutta train station warning, “No sleeping between the rails,” she was mystified. What kind of people would have to be warned about such obvious danger? Whatever kind they were, as she realized more than two years into her odyssey, she was one of them. She had slept between many rails herself and would do it again and again.
The journey cost her dearly in many ways – her innocence, her pride, her dignity, a measure of sanity, and nearly her life more than once. And yet, the treasures she brought back were vast.
The treasures multiply to this day. She will be sharing some of those treasures with you in a series of blog posts collected under the heading: “Jewels of the Journey.” I know she will, because I am she, Carroll Devine.