Saturday, August 11, 2018

There are no strangers when I travel

There is something about traveling that makes me a better person, about the freedom involved that frees me to be more open than I usually am. Traveling restores my faith in humanity and my trust in the present and future--that the world is fine for the most part. Yes, we face challenges like climate change, a political climate not to our liking, and the disappointments that follow along with getting older. But when I travel, I am not encumbered by these things, or by the judgmental overtones of the society in which I live. I am a stranger in the world, but I don’t feel like one, and other people don’t feel like strangers to me either. I don’t feel afraid or lonely, I rather feel connected to the world around me. I talk to people—cab drivers in New York City, the homeless on the streets of Manhattan, my seatmates on the plane to and from New York. I experience people for who they are, for better or worse. Yes, sometimes I run across some few people who are rude, unkind, critical or difficult. I sidestep them if necessary. But by and large, I have understood that if I open an encounter with a stranger with a smile, I get one in return. And sometimes, strangers just start talking to me; I’m not sure why. In any case, unless the topics discussed get a bit weird, I’ll give these conversations my best shot. I learn something new for the most part.

My conclusion is that it’s a good thing to get out of one’s daily personal and social routines, even if for a short time. It’s good for the brain to tackle new challenges, to be ‘uprooted’ so to speak. It’s also good to have to deal with changes in plans, as happened on my recent trip to New York; half of what I had planned to do simply did not come to pass. I did not like it initially, but there was nothing to do with it except to accept it—that life sometimes takes new turns. As it turned out, the unplanned free time gave me more time to write, for which I am grateful. But I also realized that perhaps I had over-planned, and that is a good reminder for planning my future trips. In any case, I am grateful for the fact that I can travel, that my health is good and finances likewise. Strangely enough, for how much I actually enjoy traveling, it was never a goal when I was younger. It simply came to pass that gradually, the opportunities to travel presented themselves. It started with traveling to scientific research conferences and grew from there. I will always cherish the memories of my first trip abroad to Cambridge England, to attend a scientific conference at Cambridge University. It was there I met my husband, so I have those memories to treasure. But even before I met him, I can remember the first day when we were assigned to our living quarters—the thrill of boarding in one of the dorm rooms at Cambridge University, being in a monastic-like room with a bed, a desk and not much more. It felt perfect, like that was all my life needed at that time (early 30s)—the minimal existence that is student life. Because what was waiting for me outside those four walls was immense—a chance to experience what it might have been like to study there, to experience academic life in that setting. It was a thrilling feeling, and frankly, still is. In the future, I would love to (and plan to) study there for a couple of weeks during the summer semester. Cambridge University offers short literature courses, and that is one of the things I hope to do when I retire. I have made no firm plans to do so as of yet, but it’s on my bucket list.