The other night we went to see a lovely film about the Moroccan 14th century explorer Ibn Battuta’s epic journey to Mecca. He risked everything to get to a place he had long dreamed about and which he felt would complete him as a person.
It was not a question of getting on a plane in those days. He had to trek across deserts and mountains on a horse and a camel. It took him several months. En route he was robbed, beaten and almost died.
About half-way through Olivia turned to me. “Why does he want to go to Mecca anyway?” she asked.
I tried to explain, I tried to imagine the Christian equivalent; Lourdes or maybe the Vatican for Catholics? I tried to help her grasp the idea of something being so important, so essential to you that you will risk everything for it.
Then I realised that most of probably don’t have something like that. We might have a person, but not a place. The closest I got to was Top Withins, a derelict farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors which features in the book Wuthering Heights.
I have been there several times, but the first time I saw it was almost a religious experience. I had dreamed about seeing it and wondered what it would feel like. It felt like I had arrived somewhere very important to me. I sat at the base of a tree and imagined Emily Bronte walking on the same moor, conjuring up her hero Heathcliff and working on her book.
I’m sure Ibn Battuta was inspired by more than a book, but my point is that maybe even if we don’t have a religious place we yearn to visit, we might all have something that comes close? What’s yours?
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009