Personally, I love the theme of the question of what it means to be human, a thread that weaves through so many of the super hero movies, and the allegories to the civil rights movements that mutants struggle with on the big screen with blue skin and shocking differences that mirror the political and community development struggles happening at the neighborhood level around the world.
That got me thinking: about travel, and super powers, and how spending a little time in the world stretches and changes a person. How, upon our return, we find ourselves different, in big and small ways, alien to our previous lives, and struggling to fit in and do good with what we’ve learned. The differences that make us blue, or sharp edged, or able to see our previous world with, seemingly, x-ray vision.
We talked about it as we drove the long road north of New York City and explored the ways in which travel helps a person discover her super power.
Some people are seeking invisibility when they set out. They’re hiding from something. They don’t want to be known. They travel because they need to get away, be anonymous, fade into the background, and just watch the world for a while.
Others discover their invisibility by coming face to face with the reality that, in the grand scheme of things, and on a global scale, one person is insignificant. Our lives feel very significant to us, as individuals. Our concerns and issues are all we know, until we expose ourselves to other cultures (which doesn’t necessarily take travel, go volunteer at a local shelter, or inner city project in your town!) Often, that dose of perspective leaves a person with that “outside looking in” feeling; almost like they’re invisible.
The next big question is: Do we remain invisible, and observers? Or do we materialize in super hero technicolor and use our powers for good?
One of the allures of hitting the road, especially alone, is that we have a golden opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to be whoever we want to be. It’s not uncommon for travelers to try on a few new hats as they explore the world, take some risks, branch out in personal ways, or recreate their personas as the people they would like to be.
It’s a lovely thing to be able to step outside of the box that we’ve constructed for ourselves, or the expectations that others have constructed around us, and consider the possibilities. Travel has helped more than one person peel back the layers and discover who they really are and what their place is in the world. Feeling stuck? Take a trip. Try on a new size or shape for your life. See what you learn.
For most people, travel involves flight. That’s not necessarily a super power, but learning to harness the miracle of flight and rapid transit for the greater good of humanity is. With the incredible freedom that air travel has provided comes a whole new world of possibilities.
Have you considered how that amazing super power of the ability to fly anywhere on the planet could change the world? What would you do for the world if you could do anything? Go anywhere? You can.
Airplanes don’t just take people to all inclusive resorts in Cancun. They carry people to Nepal to clear earthquake debris, they bring blood, medical supplies, and personnel to communities that are suffering. They deliver massive loads of food aid to the acutely malnourished, and they provide rescue for those in desperate situations. Flying might be my favorite “everyday” super power.
We can’t live forever. Or can we?
I’ve been privileged to meet a few people, on our journeys, who have made themselves immortal through the work they are doing in the world. People whose foundations provide the money that saves lives through humanitarian work, or who have changed the world forever by alleviating suffering, providing education, opportunity, and sustainable, dignified work for people who need it desperately.
Immortality is rather easy to achieve, for mere mortals. We need only invest in the things that really matter, that are bigger than ourselves, that will last beyond our lifespan: community development, orphan care, nutritional support, micro-loans for women, human trafficking prevention, educational opportunity for the indigenous and marginalized, ecological preservation – the possibilities are endless. There’s really no excuse for not exercising this super power and making your life count for generations to come.
Suffering is common to humanity. An effective salve for the deep wounds of life is travel. Hitting the road, leaving it all behind, making new memories in an attempt to forget some of the old is often very good medicine. If you walk far enough, you’ll finally have to put down that heavy load, and the world is a patient, persistent nurse and teacher. The ability to heal yourself, and maybe others, is a super power that’s been revealed to more than a few people as they’ve traveled.
Travel tests a person. The difficulties are not insignificant. Many wanderers find that, like the Incredible Hulk, they can lift loads far heavier than they ever expected. They can remake the landscape and move mountains when the necessity arises.
One thing the road teaches virtually everyone is that we are capable of much more than we think we are. We are strong. We are able. We can figure it out, or overcome it, or weather it. Sometimes, like the Hulk, we find a deep and powerful anger at the injustice in the world that fuels our super human strength to change the world in some capacity. We call that “passion,” and discovering it, through travel, or otherwise, is the secret to changing the world with your own two hands.
I don’t know about you, but I admire the flexibility of many of my favorite super heros. Their ability to bend and twist and fight the world’s bad guys in beautiful aerial ballet. If I was a super hero, I’d imagine myself in tall black boots, fiery hair, funky tights, and with the ability to kick ass with the grace of River, from Firefly. I’m more of a lover than a fighter, truth be told. Still, a girl can dream.
I am, however, quite flexible, and that’s not the hours of yoga talking. Mostly, it’s travel. The ability to bend to the whims of a day, roll with the punches, suspend expectations, enjoy the moment, take the world as it is, and not as I wish it was. The road has taught me that. One of my super powers is flexibility, even if I can’t kick a gun out of the bad guy’s hand while hanging upside down and battling an alien on the other side, with one hand tied behind my back.
Maybe in my next life.
Travel teaches us things, that’s indisputable. What we choose to do with those things is a defining moment in our lives and character. The sad reality is that not everyone decides to use his power for good. There is much evil in the world, and not all genius moves humanity forward, does it?
In the real world, good does not always triumph. Evil is not always thwarted. The heroes don’t always vanquish their foes. The little guy does not always come out on top. I think about that a lot, and suffer under the powerlessness I have to change so many of the things that desperately need to be in this world. It often feels like we’re trapped in the part of the movie where it really looks like the Joker is going to prevail and the scene is very dark.
Will the champions for good overcome? Only if everyone does their part and if there’s a little luck on our side. Have you thought about what your part is?
I have sons. Several of them. No discussion escapes, unscathed, from their testosterone poisoned humor. Especially not one centered around super powers.
“What about jet power, Mom? That’s a cool one!”
“Meh. I don’t know. I don’t think that’s so relevant to travel, guys.”
“Oh, are you kidding?? Travel GIVES you jet power. Every time you change continents. The food messes you up! Beans going south. Fast food going north. PFFFFTTTTT! JET POWER.”
Yeah. Teenage boys. I know.
I rolled my eyes. “Guys! Seriously. Ugh.”
“Oh, I know! Travel makes you a really strong woman, and the best mama ever, and it gives you GREAT loving skills for your kids…” Ezra buttered me up
I gave him my “get real” look.
“Now you’re just kissing my ass,” I teased him.
“You know Mom,” interrupted Hannah, “Ass kissing kind of is a super power…”
Which got me thinking, about all of the wheedling and flattery they’ve seen in crossing dodgy borders, dealing with morally flexible law enforcement and unscrupulous sales people around the planet.
I have to admit, the kids have a point, ass kissing is a super power, and it’s one that travel definitely teaches.