Traveling the US allowed me to understand beauty. Traveling the world allowed me to understand people. Let me explain.
A beloved friend said, “Seeing as much of the world is so important. It might be the most important thing.”
Mark Twain, a friend of another sort, stated, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
My dad introduced me to travel in 2009. We piled into his Chevy truck to drive to California, a trek which we finished in 2010. You can read a fragment of this adventure here: https://anneryandempsey.com/2014/01/30/nostalgia/.
We did it: from Virginia to California and back again. And it changed my life.
Traveling allowed me to see the world differently. It opened my eyes to a universe much bigger than my fragmented perception. When I traveled cross country, I saw landscapes I couldn’t dream of. I still remember the first time I saw a snowcapped mountain. We were driving through Colorado– everything was flat. Then suddenly, the horizon transformed, mesmerizing me. I actually cried when we got to Teton National Park when the clouds obfuscated the peaks, temporarily. My heart craved mountains the way it craved God: something inexplicable, beautiful, fulfilling. Something that removed me from the center of life.
However, when I started traveling internationally, I met people. Amazing people. People of all beliefs, nationalities, personalities, many with fascinating stories.
The kind waitress in Paris who brought us the best bread we ever ate. Whose smile brought me comfort in a land that intimidated me with its stoic elegance.
The man I met in the Alps who was a photographer. Who lives in Afghanistan and explained to me how and why he fears for his life. We talked about writers and books and American political views. I told him he was really brave, and I genuinely believe he appreciated that. He took my picture in Schwangau as we watched a man (wearing lederhosen) chase a cow (wearing a large bell) down the street. We parted at the train station in Munich with a handshake. I wish I could remember his name, but I do pray for his safety.
The woman I met on the train to Salzburg who was so kind and gracious. Who bought me a cappuccino. She showed me the beautiful flowers she was growing back at home in Canada. We meandered through a 16th century cemetery together, both in awe of life and stories.
The elderly German man who tried to tell me I could read poetry in German since our letters were the same. The woman on the bus who I believe carried an entire conversation with me in German. I just have no idea what she actually said . . . I smiled a lot.
The Muslim woman who caught my eye across a sale rack in a department store. Her eyes– the only part of her face I could see– were glowing as we both sifted through the designer clothing. Joy. We are so much the same.
The woman I met in Florence who told me she met her birthparents after meeting with a physic: she gave her the name of her biological father. Her mom lived on Prince Edward Island, same as Anne of Green Gables. They found each other after many years. I tried not to cry as I listened to her incredible story of reunion.
The man who told us, as we drove along the Mediterranean Sea, of his mom and an American solider who gave her a jar of Spam: “the best food she ever ate.” The soldier’s compassion overwhelmed her. Her son now visits the American military cemetery in his honor, wondering if that unidentified yet remarkable young man was among the fallen.
I wish I could travel more. Of course, there is fear. Fear of otherness, fear of danger. Can we live on in spite of it? Or can travel overwhelm and drown the fear we have of others? Of danger?
My dad told me today that I should be content with what I’ve seen as the world seems increasingly turbulent. But he also said . . . you will never be content. There is always something else to see. There is always something more to learn.