Do you ever get the feeling that you are living in a postcard? No? Me neither. However, there are from time to time those rare perfect snapshots of your life when you stop and look around and find yourself completely enthralled with the beauty of another culture. There are those breathtaking sunsets when you wish you could stop time just to have a few more moments to enjoy the sun disappearing behind a mountain into a blanket of illuminated of clouds. Or, perhaps glancing across the Seine and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. These fleeting moments are our postcards. They are our take-away experiences from all we have seen and learned on our travels.
My friend moved away from home a few yeas ago. When I asked her wether she was completely awestruck by all of the history, beauty and energy of London, her answer was very honest. For the most part, she said, you make unfamiliar things your new norm. You begin to sync your habits with those around you. You go about your days with the easy satisfaction that you have had three meals, worked hard and improved yourself on some level. And every now and then you look up and Bang!, there is Big Ben glistening in the sunlight.
We carry with us, from place to place, everything of who we are. Each time we leave our front door we pack up our insecurities, fears, quirks, habits, likes, dislikes, ideas, dreams, hopes, and experiences. They all come along for the ride. They tempt us to settle down, to fall into old habits, to become complacent, to avoid danger, to trust blindly, or to stay the steady route. We are the same person in China that we are in Spain or Iceland.
But, what changes?
We gain perspective. In any place you visit there is a history, a philosophy and a culture. Your job is figuring it out.
When I taught kindergarten, I had a fun time explaining to a student that even though she would be absent from school for a day, everything would still go on as planned. I explained that I would come to work in the morning. The other children would still be dropped off just the same as every other day. We would hold all of our classes as per usual. The problem was not that she denied that any of us existed, she could just not imagine a world without her in it.
Imagine a world without you in it. Would all the people you know be able to start their day? How would the pattern of their lives be changed? Visualize taking your hand out of a bucket of water. When you remove your hand the water fills right back in. The only way to know that the object is gone is to measure the amount of water that has been displaced. I guess the scary thing is knowing that everything will go back to normal without you.
But to my student, this was a shocking revelation. How could two alternate universes exist? On one side, she had the life of her routines (breakfast, school, lunch, recess, etc…); and, on the other, she was acting outside of her established norms by missing school and experiencing something new. She was proverbially taking her hand out of one bucket and submerging it into another. This is analogous to traveling. When you leave home, the only thing that is different to everyone else is that you are gone. Their lives are briefly empty until you are replaced (see Displacement Reaction). Though, to you, everything changes. It’s a whole new bucket.
The question now is: are you okay with that?
Traveling is not easy. It is fraught with line-ups, cramped seating, waiting, rushing, unplanned emergency bathroom stops, getting lost, missing trains, homesickness, real sickness etc… Sometimes the only way to find peace is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. But, there are always the postcard moments. And, beyond that, there are the friends that you meet along the way, the things that you learn, the sights that you see and new perspectives that you gain. It is a continuous education. One that empowers you to live and act on your own volition.
An old Japanese proverb states: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
I am open now and every new experience is a lesson. Every person that I meet is a teacher. Every postcard that I have speaks a thousand words.
T.E. Lawrence wrote:
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
So when you ask me if I am “Living the dream?”, I will tell you “Yes!”. And not because I have fantasies or delusions about who I am, but because I am acting on my dreams with open eyes.
I am at the base of Mount Fuji. We start the ascent at the fifth station. We climb for hours up steep jagged volcanic rock. At around station seven the temperature drops and we layer up. The clouds are both below us and above us hovering the summit. This is one of the most challenging yet rewarding climbs I that I have ever attempted.
There is a temple on Mount Fuji. You are supposed to wash your hands with the holy water, throw some coins into the alter, bow, clap twice, bow twice and pray. To be honest, I don’t often pray. At first I am at a loss to think of something to pray for as I am more concerned about the choreography. But in this sacred temple above the clouds on the highest mountain in Japan, I put my hands together and send all of my love, gratitude and energy to my dear friend.
I pray that she has happiness in her life. I pray that she has the strength to acknowledge that she is complete just as she is. I pray that she knows herself apart from all of the wonderful gifts and comforts that people bring to her. I pray that she looks at herself and knows that she is beautiful inside and out. I pray that she finds peace and freedom within her delicate soul. And finally I pray that even though I am on the other side of the world, invisible to everyone but strangers, she knows I love her with all of my heart. A sister’s love is not so easily displaced.
I am ready for my next lesson.