Let The Outside In

I travel, and I change.

Or I travel, and I I see the ways I’ve changed.

Probably some of both.

It’s been a month since I returned from a three-week sojourn in Europe, and I feel…different. My relationship with the space I inhabit has shifted. I say yes and embrace possibility more readily. Permanence and commitment don’t seem like such daunting concepts, but at the same time I feel less attached to things. I think I’m growing past openness to challenges and moving into a new stage of actively seeking them out. The soil of contemplation has been tilled for the seeds of action, though exactly what will blossom from those seeds remains to be seen.

Am I waxing poetic yet?

I saw a friend I lost touch with during college the other night. We’ve grown in diverging directions in the years since high school, but as we were talking I was struck by the profound sense that while we may not be as alike as we used to be in our thinking and our life trajectories, we are better able to understand each other now than we ever were when we lived in parallel. Our worlds have expanded, and we have gained new perspective—in some cases in contrast to what we were taught growing up, and in other cases affirming it. In all cases, our collective appreciation for the ability to think critically and question a given idea or belief has deepened tremendously (someone at work used this word today and I decided it doesn’t get enough screen time. So there it is).

Travelling, at least for me, accelerates the perspective-gaining process exponentially. I become simultaneously less self-conscious and more self-aware. I stop fixating on myself and my needs—my routine, my comfort, my Very Important Opinions—and start looking around me to see the things I tend to overlook in my daily life—small blessings, like having time to cook breakfast in the morning, and the immediacy of social justice issues, like poverty, and the sheer immensity of the knowledge available to those who would live with their eyes and their hands open.

For three weeks I left my routine behind and chased adventures—sunset sailing in Barcelona, a Vespa tour of wine country outside of Florence, climbing the equivalent of 100 flights of stairs while fighting gusts of Mistral wind in Marseille. But my favorite moment of the trip didn’t happen while I was on an excursion, and it wasn’t even in a city I’d never been to before. I was in Rome, walking by the Colosseum, and I realized that I could not understand a single one of the conversations taking place around me. Several of the languages were recognizable—Italian, French, German—but I didn’t know enough of any of them to know what the topics of discussion were, and this total inability to comprehend delighted me for reasons I still can’t fully articulate. I felt small and insignificant, surrounded by history and information that I had never engaged with or endeavoured to understand, but also fully autonomous. Somehow being alone in a crowd of non-English speakers was a deeply humanising experience—not unlike swimming in the ocean. I’ll think more about that connection and write a post about it someday.

Travel is a luxury. It’s a point of internal conflict that I can decide to leave my job and all other responsibilities behind for weeks at a time and go see the world while so many people will never venture beyond the borders of the country they were born in. But if I’m going to choose to do that, then it falls to me to make the most of the experience, to fully inhabit the moment even if the space is temporary, and to absorb every proffered morsel of wisdom so that I can carry them with me when I return to the life that I know, that I’ve built for myself.

I’m more aware of my edges, but they’ve blurred just a little. I’m softer, more receptive. My awareness of how I impact the people around me and how I relate, how we’re all connected, is heightened. And this is the beauty of experiencing places that turn my eyes outward, away from myself: that my focus shifts, and my eyes adjust, and my spine straightens, and I breathe easier, and I return to the familiar with my arms spread wide.

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