Travel is an excellent teacher – of so many profound subjects that are difficult to learn any other way. If she is the supreme mistress of any one, in my life experience, it is gratitude. Anyone who has traveled, even the most peripheral manner, has returned happy for home, hearth, and his own bed to sleep in. The longer we travel, the deeper we travel, the more profound those lessons of gratitude become.
As I sat on Kailua beach, sipping a glass of white wine with my friend, it happened. We squished the sand between our toes and watched our children laugh into the surf. Waves of gratefulness washed over me, like the sea between my toes.
It always happens like that. I’ll be swept away by a tide of gratitude in the center of the quietest moment; a moment that, to everyone else, looks like nothing at all, but for me, is pregnant with the answers to all of my “whys” and holds the essence of everything that matters to me in life.
of like-minded people
Gratitude has become something of a meditative practice for me. It is one of the ways I’ve learned to cultivate happiness. There are so many things in life that tempt us to discontent, so many very good reasons in this world to lose the plot and retreat into selfishness. Gratitude saves us from those things; saves us from our baser selves.
With American Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’d like to share with you a few of the things I’m most thankful for, as a result of my journeying.
I met a man once, a wealthy man, with an expensive car and multiple homes – a Tunisian man, who said to me, “You know what my dream is? My dream is to travel to America. But it is not possible. It will never happen.”
It was in that moment that I realized that my American/Canadian citizenship is a gift, and my passports are a golden ticket in the eyes of so many in the world. The freedom we enjoy as citizens of first world, western countries is astounding, and the vast majority of us take it for granted on a daily basis.
The freedom we enjoy as citizens of first world, western countries is astounding, and the vast majority of us take it for granted on a daily basis.
The freedom to travel, to say what we think, to order our lives according to our whims, to work for profit and personal gain, to breeze around the planet with ease and wealth that 90% of the world’s population can only dream of brings me to my knees in gratitude.
I am free. I am thankful.
Each year it seems that the eternal clock ticks louder. My daughter turned 17 this year, very soon she’ll be gone; her brothers right behind her. My parents are aging. My healthiest years are passing before my very eyes.
Time is a gift. I am inexpressibly grateful for the gift of this time to live and learn and travel with my family. Of course it’s a choice, we’ve worked hard to make it happen, to keep it happening, but it’s also a gift. Every day that we spend together is one that we don’t have to spend apart.
Travel is teaching me to measure time in breaths and slow footsteps, instead of school bells and angry car horns.
Travel is teaching me to measure time in breaths and slow footsteps, instead of school bells and angry car horns. Days ordered by biorhythm instead of alarm clocks. Hours with my children instead of minutes. Space in which to think, listen and experience, instead of rush through. Time to sit on the beach with a new friend and sip wine on a Tuesday afternoon. Time is limited, every moment a gift I am thankful for.
I wept as Hannah played her guitar and sang to a classroom full of orphans in Cambodia, children who were the lucky ones. They had shoes, they could go to school.
My heart broke a little when we noticed that there were no boys beyond the fourth grade in the three room school at Pixabaj, Guatemala; they were needed in the fields. We tried not to let the shock register on our faces when we realized that there was one book per classroom. One. Only the teacher read it.
It’s harder in virtually every other country in the world than it is in the USA to go against the flow and educate outside the box.
Some of the world’s biggest problems are the simplest, and yet the most complex. Books. Schools. Education. My children breeze through the world with a thousand books, literally, on their reading devices. The entire expedition is a carefully designed field trip to support a rigorous intellectual education. Doors are open for them that are closed without the ability to decipher the letter and numerical codes.
Not only that, travel has given me a profound gratitude for our ability to truly educate our children in the way that best suits them and outside of the institutional infrastructure. Germans don’t have that freedom. It’s harder in virtually every other country in the world than it is in the USA to go against the flow and educate outside the box. I wish, with all of my heart, for education for all of the world’s children, and I’m so thankful for the ability to deliver a world class education for our children.
I do not travel for the museums or the monuments. I do not travel for the rush of new experiences, or to check the big ticket items off of a list.
I travel for the people. I travel because Sam and Melissa, in the Czech, taught us the meaning of chosen family when it mattered most, and because the kindred spirits of the Rickard family were waiting in Australia to be discovered. I travel because there would be less laughter in my world without the Palmers (who we met in Malaysia), or the Sztupovszkys (who lived with us in Thailand), and because my life would be a lesser place without the depth that Duane and Keri, and our shared Guatemalan adventures, add.
I travel because Powell is a soul sister, and who knows where the path will take us together now that we’ve shared wine and a Hawaiian week? I’m thankful for you people. You know you you are. It would take me a page and a half to list the names, and several books to tell the stories.
It was a hard day’s travel along the Thai-Myanmar border. We got lost. We were hungry and tired. It was a verifiable Catholic miracle that we found the place we were staying – cottages in a rice paddy, and it wasn’t found without help. We smiled our weary smiles of non-understanding at the tiny mistress of the grounds. She smiled back and signaled with one finger to wait. We waited: water buffalo grazed in the paddy, the afternoon’s sun stretching their shadows out, black against the mud. The only sound was the quiet swish, swish, swish of two girls tossing rice in wide flat baskets – black grains against creamy reeds woven tightly.
Technology has changed the world, built bridges and created options where previously none existed.
Our hostess returned, with an ipad in her hands. She pulled up Google translate, typed into the Thai key board, clicked the button and then handed it to us, “I’m so glad you found us. Are you sure you need two cottages? You’ll both fit into one.”
She was unaware of the four children we were harboring in the back of the rental car. We laughed, typed back in English, clicked the button, and then she laughed. In that moment I wanted to kiss Steve Jobs. Technology has changed the world, built bridges and created options where previously none existed. I’m profoundly grateful for that.
My uncle died this month, and I was in Australia instead of at the funeral; I will always be sad about that. I am reminded of a lesson that was palpable when my grandmother passed some years ago. It hit me like a ton of bricks as I kissed her goodbye – nothing fits in the box with us on the way out. No one knows for sure what we take to the other side, if anything. At best, it’s our memories and our relationships.
That lesson is one that continues to drive the course of our family. We want to be people who invest in memories, not stuff, and pursue relationships, not things. Travel has taught me to carefully collect memories and press them, like flowers between the leaves of a book, within the folds of my heart. I’m collecting colors, sounds, smells, laughter, sadness, experiences, and precious people instead of filling my house with pottery and picture frames. I wouldn’t trade the last five years traveling with my family for any other kind of life, because to do so would be to give up what’s come to be the most precious possession I have – our memories. My memories. There are no words for how thankful I am for those.
Travel has taught me to carefully collect memories and press them, like flowers between the leaves of a book, within the folds of my heart.
Just today our feet have touched down in North America. This last leg of our journey has carried us across Southeast Asia, the islands, Australia, and New Zealand for nineteen months. Thanksgiving afternoon we’ll throw open the door and scoop a 93 year old great grandmother into our arms in Wisconsin – another precious gift to be thankful for. We love to be away, to journey, to adventure, to laugh with the four winds, but we’re unspeakably thankful for home and the many places that constitute that concept for us: people, places, familiar things. This month, as we make another great American road trip, from coast to coast, on an epic “friends and family” tour, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, over and over, within each new set of arms that embrace us.
This life is a gift, friends. Maybe you travel, maybe you don’t. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.
Won’t you join me in practicing gratefulness as a meditation this week and share what you’re thankful for, in travel and in life?