Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Christmas Eve Reflections
Teri - Well it is Christmas Eve morning in Port Adelaide. Chris is still asleep and I have the house to myself as Rod & Anna, whose home we're staying at, have gone to work. A good time for a few reflections on our overall travel experience...
Before embarking on this trip, I yearned for adventures on the far corners of the globe. I was restless, and even though I always knew my life was extraordinarily blessed, I wasn't completely content because I felt like travelling was something I needed to experience. I felt my life was too comfy, and I wanted to take risks and challenge myself. The destinations themselves were less important than the act of venturing forth in the world and experiencing life and myself out of my usual context.
I romanticized travel in my mind and was disappointed when we couldn't go for nine months as we'd originally hoped. I'd read and reread Rolph Pott's Vagabonding - The Art of Long-Term World Travel and my mind was filled with quotes like, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." (Andre Gide)
So we did it, and what have I learned?
I'm proud of us for taking a leap of faith and venturing out when it wasn't a popular or conventional choice for two people in their thirties. I may have sacrificed the security of a good job and created some odd gaps on my resume, but I'm sure it will all work out. I'm glad we didn't play it safe and do what was expected of us.
I'm glad we did it now rather than later. When my dad passed away suddenly in 08, the urgency to travel intensified in me. I had never really considered time as finite before - there was always tomorrow or next year. I wish my dad had more time to do the things he wanted to in life, and I hope he would be proud of me for following my dreams instead of putting them off to some distant future when they were more 'practical'.
My perception of travel is less idealistic since hitting the road ten weeks ago. The daily grind of regular life is replaced by the grind of wearing the same dirty clothes, packing and unpacking, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and missing the comforts of home. I'm a little disappointed in myself, actually, to learn how attached I am to superficial luxuries like having several pairs of shoes and makeup and hot baths. (I don't have these things but I miss them intensely!) I thought travel would weaken my vanity and superficial attachments but I think it has just brought them to the surface!
While in India especially, I came to appreciate how spoiled we are in the West, how much we consider to be minimum standards of life are totally outside the range of experience for millions of people who still manage to get by, and do so with apparent grace and contentment. When I'm feeling sucky about being on a bus for 14 hours in Australia, I think about how a bus in India would have at least three times more passengers, little suspension but rougher roads, and no air conditioning. Even though my pampered Western-world conditioning has been put under the microscope on this trip, I think I've also become a bit tougher, and have learned that I can get by with much less than I thought.
I've learned that the people you meet while travelling are the most meaningful part of the journey. The Taj Mahal was wonderful to visit, but in the end it will be the friends we visited, the friends we made enroute, and the local people we talked to who give the experience its poignancy and flavour. As an introverted person, I'm still practicing striking up conversations with strangers, but I find that when I do I often have the most interesting exchanges and learn things about places that you don't find in Lonely Planet. Just as an example, I met a woman on the flight to Goa who lived there who told me about a night-market worth checking out and gave me her card 'in case we ran into any trouble, just give her a call'. The generosity of friends and strangers warms my heart.
Just two more insights...
"The map is not the territory." (Alfred Korzybski) A familiar and routinized life insulates us somewhat from our individual quirks and weaknesses. Travelling and meeting new people in new contexts creates in me a self-consciousness that is unsettling. While I guess it has also been an opportunity to discover hidden strengths like courage and independence, it also brings to light unattractive aspects of my personality and unhealthy patterns in Chris's and my relationship. I think it's all good though, and I trust that we're both growing personally and relationally. This trip is bringing us closer, I believe, as we overcome obstacles together and create many shared memories.
Finally, "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." (T. S. Elliot) The last while I've felt homesick and have even toyed with the idea of cutting the trip short by coming home from Australia instead of going to New Zealand. I think we all take for granted, to some degree, our relationships, communities, and homes. I know I will come home with a greater appreciation for my family, my friends, my home, and my whole life. I still want to see Europe, more of North America, and pretty much anywhere else I have the opportunity, but I don't think I'll go away for longer than a month again. This trip is giving me an appreciation of balance between the exhilaration of setting out and having adventures in new places with the grounding and comforting experience of home, that is itself interesting and enlightening if only we continue to see with fresh eyes.
If you're still reading, congratulations, you've come to the end. If you think about the meaning of life and purpose, let's get together for a coffee and chat sometime. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a safe, healthy and inspiring 2010.
Posted by CHRIS and TERI at 4:10 PM