Eastern Walkabout Jeremy Sorgen Class of 2004
Two summers after I graduated from NYU and unsatisfied with the office life, I set forth to travel between Jerusalem and Japan. I expected the journey to take me two years though I entertained the possibility that, like Odysseus, I would find an enticing island to detain me further. I did return, in just under two years, and I never got to Japan. As these things go, you cannot dictate the currents of life but must suc- cumb to its ebb and flow. My most radical life
choice to set forth was also my deepest surrender.
Though the story transpires abroad, it has its origins here
in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in Albany, California, a semi-suburban town of one square mile. It wasn’t until
I began high school in the city across the bridge that I was
introduced to people from all over the world, which I now
see was only possible at FAIS.
My high school experience thus transcended a mere education to probe central questions of identity, questions that
followed me as a shadow, first to New York and then abroad
to France and Colombia. I took every opportunity to travel,
enthralled by the differences among cultures and determined
to understand the humanity common to all. In addition to
the many faces of the world, each of these excursions taught
me about myself. Paris, it turns out, is a good place to discover you’re American.
But what does it mean to be American? In defining self, I
have dashed myself against the various shores of this world,
to constantly test what sort of stuff this world and I are made
of. In retrospect, my trip is what Joseph Campbell calls the
“hero-journey” and the Aborigines a “walkabout.” It is a
singular journey away from home and toward oneself. Its
purpose is to open the child’s eyes to the soul of the world
and to fortify the spirit with a confidence by which it can accomplish any number of things.
Jerusalem, the city of prophets, taught me the difference between instrumental and divine knowledge, the one
extracted with the scalpel, the other by lifting the object,
as a prism, to the light. I learned that analysis is useful for
leveling judgment, but that only the beatific object inspires. I
wondered what would happen should the world’s holy scriptures be viewed through the second and not the first lens.
Beirut taught me surrender, one of the root meanings of
the word Islam. In the melee of city traffic, the driver drunk,
the seat belts deliberately removed from the vehicle, one
quickly learns to believe in God. Upon reflection, we see
that the pivotal events of one’s life are beyond our control
and that control is at best an illusion sustained through what
might be called a faith-act.
Turkey taught me about the kindness of strangers and
convinced me that the world is at bottom a benevolent
place. Hitchhiking and couch-surfing across the country, I
found that people still honor the stranger by the old standards of hospitality and were always happy to share the little
they had, for friendship brings warmth, especially in colder
Each place had its story and each story its lesson. I found
that the longer I lingered, the more of that story I heard; and
so, in the end, I traveled only as far east
as Iran before my own story took me to
Cuba and then home. There I linger,
Jeremy is a writer, ethnographer and
mediator. He leverages the power of
story to restore voice, raise awareness,
resolve conflict, build community
and capture personal narratives. With
former FAIS student Alex de Raadt St.
James, he is launching the Admirable
People Project, a series of interviews
with admirable people who discuss
the challenges of a life and what for
them makes life worth living.
Jeremy Sorgen (left) with friends he met on his journey
through the Middle East.
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