On a pilgrimage with John Urry

December 8, 2016

There are ghosts on the 6:15am ferry. The passengers, the crew, and I have all been wrestled from our sleep much too early and our souls aren’t quite awake. Even the Quinsam seems to sail through the pre-dawn darkness more like a ghoul than a ship, with hollow groans and moans that reverberate eerily through the pitch-black strait. I ride this spooky sailing about once a month, either to make an early meeting at the university in Victoria or to get on an early Air Canada flight from Nanaimo airport to Vancouver International. Today, it’s the latter. Normally I would get off the small regional Dash 8 at YVR and make my way onto a Boeing 777, a Dreamliner, or an Airbus A320 and fly somewhere else, somewhere far. But not today. I am only going as far as Vancouver today and I will be back home sometime in the afternoon. I am on a pilgrimage today.

Followers of many religions embark at some point or another in their life on pilgrimages in order to seek spiritual and moral guidance from higher beings. Filled with hope and faith, they set off on journeys to destinations meaningful to them, their gods, and their prophets. They carry along sacred texts. Along their routes they seek connection and salvation.

I, to be candid, have no religion whatsoever and today’s my very first pilgrimage. Mind, it’s a pilgrimage in the most metaphorical of terms: an entirely pagan journey driven by the need to find not so much spiritual guidance but rather theoretical and empirical connection by way of experiential inspiration. I carry five treasured texts: four articles in PDF format and a book. The number five–if you happen to be wondering–isn’t of particular cabalistic significance, it just happens to be the limit of cited references my editors have imposed this essay.

Yet the number five presents a unique coincidence: five is also the number of transportation modes I will utilize today: a ferry boat, a car, an airplane, a subway train, and a seaplane. And so along the route I too, one transport mode after another will seek a metaphysical connection with someone whose words have left a profound trace on me and my work. John Urry might not be seating next to me today, but he is still here today.

(Excerpt from “On a pilgrimage with John Urry”–a chapter in a forthcoming book on John Urry’s legacy)