Way back when during prehistoric times, one of my best friends in high school and I were talking about what the future would hold for us one day. She happened to mention that one of her desires was to leave Alabama. Having never traveled more than 20 miles from her birthplace, she figured it was time for a change. At the time, it seemed incredulous to me that she had never crossed state lines, so I fully supported that wish.
Long story short, she never left. I believe that she had wanted to, but didn’t know how to put her plan into action. I think that there are many people like her who feel stuck and in a rut, so their solution is to do nothing. Many years later, she still hasn’t and attributes her previous lamentations to youthful flights of fancy.
I don’t like to focus on a life of regrets or what might have-beens, but I can’t help to think about what opportunities she’s missed. She has settled comfortably into a life where she only gets to see the beauty of the Maasai through photographs gracing the pages of National Geographic. She will only get to experience that moment through someone else’s vantage point and never realize the sheer joy of witnessing first hand, the completeness that traveling brings to a life.
I believe that my friend has a good and happy life. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much more fulfilling it would be had she allowed herself to be exposed to things outside her comfort zone. I think traveling offers you so much more than fancy stamps on your passport. I believe it makes you a bona-fide citizen of the world and exposes you to things that are not censored by media outlets. It gives you a first person look at the beauty and ugliness of life. There are no filters to obfuscate the realities of life, in some ways, it offers a more realistic view of what’s really going on in the world. In fact, it’s confirmation that we really aren’t so different. No matter how rich a country is, there is always a segment of the population who aren’t as fortunate.
More importantly, it helps us to bridge the differences between cultures. I think unfamiliarity breeds contempt; people tend to fear the unknown and mistrust things that they do not understand. At the end of the day, a father living in Bangladesh wants his family to be as happy as a family living happily in a high rise in upper Manhattan. Though we may have different ways of living, of worshiping, of dreaming….we all want what’s best for our loved ones….we all have dreams for our families. That is the great equalizer….we all seek peace, harmony and joy in our everyday living. Such is the human condition; we simply have our own unique ways of trying to achieve them.
One of the truisms borne out of this Internet generation is that the world is getting smaller. Electronic communication has opened up so many gateways to people and places we wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to. I think this makes our quality of life more interesting, complex and exciting. I believe it makes us more well-rounded, educated, open and willing to take risks. It creates an instant community between people from all over the globe who share specific interests and the willingness to help one another is nothing short of amazing. Reaching across the chasm of space and in some respects, time, I believe we can create a new understanding between cultures. We fear that which is foreign to us; if we resolve to knock down the walls that tend to divide us, we can create a spirit of brotherhood instead of conflict.
Isn’t that what truly matters anyway?