Half the fun is just getting there…

…but where is there?

Years ago, when Jackie O. died, I came across a poem that had been read at her funeral. I have never felt worthy of poetry, but that changed the day I read the poem that helped memorialize her stunning, heartbreaking and eloquent life.

In the years since, the poem has become iconic to me, one that I keep near and refer to often. This is true both when times are good, and when times are rough, or just damn confusing. It’s a constant source of reminding for me that it’s the getting there that is most important; more important really than the arrival. What we learn along the way is priceless; it’s what makes us who we are, what informs others of what we are made of, what they are getting when they get us.

As the saying goes, it’s not the mistakes we make, it’s how we handle them, what we do with them. When we stumble, because we do, how do we pick ourselves up; when we get lost, because we do, can we find our way back, or just find a way at all? When we lose, because we do, can we see that true winning can often come from the strangest places?  I am here, connected with you in fact, because of that very truth.

The poem is called Ithaka and is the most popular of a famous Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy. In the poem he likens our life journey to that of the Odyssey; a long round about path to figuring out our own capacity even if,  especially if, we find ourselves facing unexpected, difficult  hurdles.

I was lucky enough to have a boss once who said to me,

it’s ok if you fail, in fact, I expect you to‘.

Early on in my position there, he and I worked on a major year end report for a pilot program I had developed and implemented for our department. I was disappointed, and kinda freaking out – because the program didn’t go the way I had hoped, expected really.  The data showed it, numbers don’t lie. In my mind the program had failed, and so therefore I had failed. And that scared me. He insisted however, that instead, it was a success. Seeing the perplexed look on my face he gently ushered me towards seeing that we had learned so much about the program. It was about so much more than just getting it right. It was more important to show the true outcome and why, and then leverage that knowledge going forward. That any decisions from that point would be so much better, more informed. In that context, he showed me that the road was equally, if not more, important than the arrival.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: 
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time:
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, 
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind. 
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, 
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy

As a creative person, I know this in my bones; the process is often more satisfying, and more important, than the result.  And while reading this, it may seem easy to imagine Ithaka as a beautiful destination, the penultimate locale, the city upon the hill, somewhere that seems larger than life. For each of us, that means something different; the perfect job, the perfect partner, a partner, the wedding, a baby, another baby, a bigger house, a book, a certain income,winning a race, game or contract, being at the top in our profession. But in reality, Ithaka is a small insignificant island among many, reinforcing the idea of the road to her, rather than her.

I keep this poem near to me much like you would call a friend for help, or advice, when perspective is mandatory for well being. When I need to stop and let, and sometimes force, myself be in the mess of it all, just kind of hang out there in the unpleasant uncomfortable discomfort. Squirmy as I might get; as much as I might want to jump out of my own skin.

When a significant relationship crumbled, one that I thought – had been promised, vows had been exchanged would last a lifetime, I reached a point in my grief where I knew that the pain would have to become, if not my friend, at the very least my closest companion.  I knew enough that to avoid it would render me unrecognizable to myself, let alone anyone who would meet me – get me – from that point on. I became determined to work through it with the goal that the experience of hurt and betrayal would not define me, it would not be what others saw first when I entered their lives.

Now, years later, I often actually forget to remember that that time in my life happened.  I will never forget, for it is part of me, it informed me, it’s a layer in my cake;  but it does not define me. I look back, and though at the time, the road seemed long, it’s a road I am grateful to have traveled, for all that I gained along the way.   That’s something I don’t forget to remember.

We each have our own road to Ithaka; and I hope that along yours…

“…May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time…”


Print a copy of the poem, if you too would like to keep it near: Ithaka


17 thoughts on “Half the fun is just getting there…

  1. Thank you for sharing this poem, Bonnie. It is truly beautiful. People go through life wondering what is at the end, but it’s not the end that matters, it’s the journey we take ‘getting there’ that is important.

    I love the way you have written this. I was in a hurry this morning and your writing was like poetry to me. It calmed me and I cherished the time it took me to read it (I could have read an entire book of your words!)

    Thank you for making me exhale and relax! You are wonderful 🙂


    • Dianne,

      I want to frame this, your response just makes me so happy, and from you, the author. You are wonderful!

      I am so glad a moment here helped you exhale and relax, , the poem is so eloquent. I find something new in it each time I read it. And the sense of it really does stay with me and whispers at me, to just sit, and be still, when I want to jump out of my skin! You are right, it’s not the end…it’s what is in the getting there. Thank you my friend! 🙂


  2. I love this and had never read it. What a beautiful way to remind us to enjoy the ride, including all of its ups and downs. I struggle with always trying to get somewhere instead of being content with where I am, regardless of how great where I am is right now, so I appreciate this reminder right now. Thanks for another beauutiful post!


    • Thank you Jenni, so much.

      Isn’t the poem just beautiful? It stopped me in my tracks that day I read it in the paper, and I remember exactly where I was sitting, in our apartment when we lived in DC. It’s a challenge to not rush past the moment, especially when it’s uncomfortable. That experience back in the day, with a failed relationship was an excellent teacher.


  3. I love this poem….and how it can be so many different journeys for each of us. But what I love more are your words, “but it does not define me”….. I am so grateful that these wide roads narrowed enough for our paths to cross….♥


  4. The poem, the poet, the post, the writer, the woman. All are worth of keeping close at hand. Beautifully expressed Bonnie and I for one am ever thankful that my own road merged with yours…just another surprising and wonderful side road, dirt path, on my road to ‘there’. Thank you wonderful friend…


    • Rhon – I am so thrilled that our roads have merged, who could have possibly known that our own journeys, authentically taken, would land us square in front of each other. These things you cannot plan for, pack for…just have to be ready. I love this side, dirt, path, freeway, whatever…that has joined with yours. thank you wonderful friend! xo


  5. How lucky for me to read with my coffee this morning. To reflect upon our journey in a new way and to understand with humble clarity (but no greater certainty, for I already was certain) the incredible talent you share with all of us. Is it ok if I too print this out and keep it close – or does that make me a total copy cat – well, it does make me a total copy cat – so can I be one? xo


    • I would be so happy to know this poem is near to you too…that it holds meaning for you too Mims…it has been such a source of insight, guidance, for me over the years, and I would love knowing that it might be the same for you, and can’t think of anyone better to have as a ‘copy cat’ [just don’t sleep on my head! ] I just sent it to you though, so you don’t have to print the whole post to get the poem! .And thank you…though that does not quite seem sufficient… xoxo


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