Saturday, August 6, 2011

Travel Moments: The Epiphanies of Getting Around

This is a very special guest post, as it was written and submitted (for the sole purpose of inclusion on this blog, which I take as a tremendous honor) by my sister, Mary.  That's not her real name.  She doesn't have a blog that I can link you to.  She is a very private person.  I found her piece to be a great read (and I'm not saying that because we're related), and I know that you will, too.  

Mary, you told me not to run it if it "sucked".  On the contrary, it's excellent.  I might be the "writer" in the family (even though, according to Mom, Adam writes a hundred times better than I do????), but it clearly didn't come out of a vacuum.  Love you :-) 
Myself, Adam, and Mary at a photo shoot.  We eventually got kicked out for misbehaving ... you can probably tell from this pic (taken just after the photographer reamed us out) who the ringleader was ;-)  Mary was (as you can also tell from this pic) "the good one" :-)

                                                        Travel Moments

I am a traveler. I wasn’t always; in fact, I spent many years snugly tied to home. My father was afraid of flying, and the only vacations we took involved being piled in the station wagon and driving down the East Coast to Orlando. The message was subtle but clear: stay on the ground and stick to what you know.

Somewhere along the path to self that most of us wander down during the first two years of college, I decided to go to Orlando again. Only this time I went in an airplane, with six friends and no relatives. It was during this trip that I had my first of many Travel Moments.

A Travel Moment, as I call them, is a mini (or maxi, in some cases) epiphany that you wouldn’t have had if you were in your regular setting. There is something spiritually stressful yet enormously formative about traveling.

You tax your body with sometimes extensive continuous wakefulness, circadian disruptions, what we shall politely call intestinal disruptions, and the stress of uncertainty. You take yourself out of your element, to a place you have never been. You do not know where the drug store is, or where to get a bagel. Sometimes you do not speak the language. Sometimes your bags do not make it along with you, and have to wash the clothes on your back in the sink so as not to go nudist the next day. In other words, there is an extreme amount of, you know, just going with it. All of this stress is paradoxically somewhat relaxing, freeing even, and it opens you up for epiphanies. In other words, the quirks of travel enable the Travel Moment.

My first Travel Moment (Orlando, age 20) happened right away. I stepped off of my first airplane that I remember riding on, and boarded a train to the terminal. I stood with my friends, looked out the window, and saw…palm trees. I had been in Boston, trudging through dirty, crusty February snow, just 3 hours before. And yet there I was, among the freaking palm trees. Whoa. For a girl who hadn’t traveled anywhere in more than 10 years, this was profound. It was enlightening. The world is not such a big place after all, and all things that I saw as exotic and unattainable were right there for me. All I needed to do was grab them.

In preparing to write this piece, I listed all of the places I have been and their associated Travel Moments. As I bounce around a fair amount for work, there are far too many to list, but I’d love to share some of my strongest:

1.) Location: Ireland. Travel Moment epiphany: “I’m fixed now, and all I had to do was cross the ocean.” I was 22, and having terrible trouble with anxiety attacks. It was getting to the point where I had trouble leaving the apartment, when my boyfriend (now husband)’s parents surprised us with a trip to Ireland as a graduation gift. It was horrifying. I did it, though. I got on the plane, traveled to England, crossed into Ireland, and toured the whole country with 30 people we didn’t know. Once we got home, leaving home to go to a restaurant was laughably minor. A few months later we decided to move out of state, and haven’t been back. You can’t go home again, and that’s okay.

2.) Location: Amelia Island, FL. Travel Moment epiphany: “This is wonderful, and my father probably will never get to have this.” This one was a weekend away. I was 28 and living in Florida (remember those palms?), and my husband surprised me with a trip at this bed and breakfast. We had no children. We slept late, lounged on the beach, and went to fancy restaurants. My Travel Moment came as I watched the waves, with my feet in the sand. I thought that this might be what retirement is like, and then I thought about my father, with whom I have a very strained relationship. It occurred to me that he will likely never get to relax and lounge like that, and that is a sad thing. For whatever hurt there was on my end, I got to have things in life that he didn’t.

3.) Location: Tianjin, China. Travel Moment epiphany: “We’re doing the exact same thing!” I was 28 here too, and I was in a crowded sweet shop. There were open bins of candies and cookies, and everyone was reaching for them. Everyone in the shop was from Tianjin, and I am from New Hampshire. We all took a bag and pointed at the things we wanted. No one talked to the girls working in the shop. This was the one time in China that I could have been “local”. It was wild.

4.) Location: Nairobi, Kenya. Travel Moment epiphany: “What a crazy set of circumstances that led to me eating lunch with these people.” I was working here for a week, and I was 31. The institute had a “cafeteria”, which I put in quotes because it was a sunny outdoor courtyard overflowing with flowers and birds. I was eating lunch with 6 colleagues, chatting about trivial nonsense. My colleagues were from Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, China, and…Massachusetts. I wondered if, as children, we would have imagined sitting at a table in Africa chatting with one another.

5.) Location: Maine. Travel Moment epiphany: “One different choice would have led to us having a completely different life.” This one happened about 4 days ago. We were staying at my husband’s family cabin for the first time in 5 years. A lot has changed. We moved from Connecticut to Florida to Maryland, and now have a little boy. When we arrived, I suddenly remembered that I had once loved log homes, and that we had talked about building one someday. As I was giving my boy a bath in the sink, I realized that had we not moved away, perhaps I would do this every night: give my boy a bath in the sink in a log cabin at the end of a day where we went to the town parade. The thing is, I think it would have been just as happy a life.

Those are my stand-outs. What are your strongest Travel Moments?

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