Traveling teaches so much (or “Why I am a modern beggar and philosopher”)…
I’ve reminded myself that it is a bigger world than I ever imagine. I’ve also remembered that the actual exercise of traveling is exhausting, mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.
I’ve become actutely aware for the umpteenth time that I am woefully lacking in patience and am incredibly selfish. I have learned much from my fellow traveling partners on being patient and treating others with a spirit of generosity.
I don’t think I am generally more selfish than anyone else; I think the process of traveling makes it more acute.
Travelling with others is a supremely intense community. You must lose some individual rights, but are rewarded with much greater things. Maybe there were times when I wanted to go faster or see something different or (enter complaint here), but sacrificing these, I got my friends. I got a different perspective, security, new eyes and ears.
Backpacker travel is a vagabond/beggar’s life. You skimp and save and hoard. It is easy for one who has much to be generous. It is not as easy for one who has little (see “Widow’s Mite”). I have caught myself hoarding out of some perceived necessity. Upon taking a step back, I can see my selfishness all too clearly. God has proven so many times that I will get by. Why do I persist in thinking I must have the last scrap of bread (at the expense of others) to get by?
Lessons to spend an entire life learning…
“There are no truly free persons in Russia except beggars and philosophers.” –Michael Speransky, 1802
The inevitable question causes a disconnect as bad as Cingular. Falling upon a conversation with the thud of a sack of potatoes, it ushers in a surreal moment of silence in which I am serenaded by moving lips but soundless speech. “Why are you going to Asia?” I sincerely hope I don’t sound arrogant, but I simply can’t fathom the place that this question comes out of. Why am I going to Asia? I’m going to Asia to live.
It is adventure. It is discovery, exploration, journey, sojourn. Insert the name of the new non-denominational, contemporary church down the road here. But its true. There is a part of my life, my experience that is innately tied to the experience of diverse cultures and the challenge of travel. Whatever it may be, “vacation” is the wrong word. A vacation is something you do to shut off your mind for a short time. It usually comes with a travel agent and a margarita. Pilgrimage, on the other hand, opens up the soul to the breadth and width of God.
In each new culture, I experience a new God and I experience a new Me. God interacts through people and places, transforming my understanding of God and expanding the limits of my imagination. God expounds the mystery and transcends it at the same time. Meanwhile, my connection to that Spirit hums vibrant.
God also teaches a form of radical dependence and trust that I have never experienced in other phases of my life. I stand on the corner of fear and discomfort, desperately trying to discern the way and immediately cognizant that I don’t know the language, I don’t have the power or the money, I lack all of the means to survive here, and like Gideon, the only possible answer is that God am.
Meanwhile, my complacency dies and vitality reigns. Faith begins to enter into chambers I had long forbidden it. And so my pilgrimage begins…
As a pseudo-resident of New York City, I learned to appreciate a certain kind of chance encounter. Subway cars pass by in the night. Lights flash. Eyes are empty. Feet shuffle. A computerized, monotone voice fills the car from the overhead speaker. Bump, shove, shift, assist. Bags in the aisle. Lights on. Lights off. Time grudgingly passes in impossible increments and your mind continually transfers home. A man yells, a baby cries and the car becomes a unified, dull roar.
You gaze absently through a dirt-speckled window as the loudspeaker informs you that your stop is now 15 minutes away. Screaching to a halt, you find yourself facing another train and another car and another dirty window and another face. Across from you at a distance no more than six feet is The Other.
Incredibly, in a vast sea of humanity, eyes meet and worlds converge. Out of thousands underground, millions in the city, billions worldwide, for one brief moment, it is two. Your eyes study, define, communicate and question. All in a matter of ten seconds. It is Ethereal and Ephemeral.
On the other side of the planet, Mongolia even, life is different, but the encounter is even more poignant. Assumptions, prejudices, truth and fiction turn and revolve like the globe on its axis. Yet a voiceless meeting in traffic somehow reveals further kilometers of truth and passion. The passing moment becomes a gateway into another world. That shared moment a microcosm of interaction between cultures. That mystical moment, a spiritual connection expounding into a bridge. As the differences are greater, so is the reconciliation.
The ten second relationship, in its profundity, reveals layers of commentary, unobservable to cursory steps, reading, and local tours. New worlds emerge, and I have to thank for it again the phenomenon of the chance encounter.
The Travel Elixir
The abruptness of travel shocks you out of comfort and complacency. A 16-hour plane trip is like detox to awaken gratitude and usher in understanding. THe anticipation of the event, bringing alongside it fear, anxiety, excitement and disease of the unknown, somehow rips down the funhouse mirrors in which you’ve viewed your mundanity. At the least, it makes you aware that they exist. Its a deep spring-cleaning of the soul or a crisp fall wind that becomes a soft summer breeze.