Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why I Continue To Travel

The university in Sfax, Tunisia. I can't imagine living with that sky every day.

“Please be careful.” A friend’s Facebook message popped up on my computer as I sat in my Dijon apartment eating lunch and reading about the terrorist attack that had just happened in Brussels. I remember last November when I was the one doing the checking with friends scattered throughout Paris while I sat safe at home in St. Louis, having left an extended stay in France only a week before the tragedy.

Now it’s just a few days before I leave Europe again and head home. It’s not fear over terrorism that occupies my mind. Not in week when the street markets are bursting with spring bouquets for sale. For this traveler, it comes down to the most pedestrian things like “Will a terrorist threat shut down public transport in Paris?” or “How will this affect my flight?” or “Will it rain the whole time I’m in Paris. After all – April?”

As I watched the news reports on France24, an urge welled up to call my husband on Skype and talk to him about mundane household affairs. I can’t say it was fear. My apartment was safe and warm. There was soup de courgette cooking on the stove. The sun had been out all week. These were not signs of imminent danger. Yet my sense of security wavered by a small increment.

When the terrorist attacks happened in Paris last fall, many people in the U.S. cancelled their overseas travel plans. I was thinking ahead to my next trip. After the tragedy of 9/11 in New York made many want to stay close to home, I bought plane tickets to take my children to London. For a week we explored a country that had survived Roman invasions and German bombardments. We experienced the world. I fed their love of travel.

 Dougga in a verdant valley of Tunisia, an isolated ancient Roman town

My daughter crosses oceans frequently for work at a time when a plane seems to fall out of the sky at least every month. But she’s young and adventurous and sees amazing opportunities to shape her life. And as her mother I worry. Because that’s what mothers do. But I also worry about my son whose job requires a long commute in highway traffic right in our own hometown. Isn’t he playing the odds – the more miles traveled the more likely to be in a crash? It’s a mother’s job to worry. Yes, I admit it. Sometimes I make up reasons to text him to make sure he’s alive since he’s busy with two jobs and friends and doesn’t call enough.

On Good Friday evening as I arrived at l’Eglise Notre-Dame de Dijon, two armed soldiers were standing on the steps outside. The battle between love/hope and power/hate rages on. But in the dim light of the sanctuary the music of Gregorian chants rose a couple of hundred feet into the vaulted arches and floated over the crowd as the congregation followed the choir past the multitude of stone columns, stopping at different stations in the church to listen to the songs of love and sacrifice that had been heard there for 800 years. By the time the service was over, it was fairly easy to believe "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est" -- Where charity and love is, there also is God.

The world can be a dangerous place whether I stay where I was born or strike out on unfamiliar roads. I’ve met more wonderful people and had more enriching experiences on my trips than I’ve encountered bad ones. As I get older I feel a sense of urgency to see more of the world before I can’t any more. Travel reminds me that I’m not always in charge. And I’m ok with that. It reminds me that my way of doing things is not the only or best way. It forces me outside of my comfort zone, which is scary and good (can anyone say “Atlanta highways”?). It makes me feel at home in the world, not just my own neighborhood.

All of this is to say that I will keep on traveling. There is more beauty and joy out there than danger. I hope you feel the same.

I'm always wondering what's behind a closed door . . .

. . . Or around the next bend

Since I’ve been out of touch for longer than I had intended, let’s reconnect by you telling me the most interesting or life-affecting place you have been, whether close to home or at the ends of the earth. Click here to comment.


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