My daughter’s teacher has shared with her that she has never traveled outside the state. That was amazing to my daughter who has lived on three continents. Proud military brats, she and her brother were born on a military base in Europe. My children have lived in three countries and three states and visited countless others. We’re proud of the opportunity this difficult lifestyle has given our kids, but should we not be more proud of the broad minds we’ve tried to cultivate in them?
I will say this for Mrs. Teacher: she is one of the most worldly and open-minded women I have met. Her class contains a higher percentage of students who were born abroad than perhaps any other in our southern suburban elementary school. She frequently includes cultural lessons that embrace traditions that may or may not coincide with her own. She celebrates where her students come from as well as who they are. She is a quintessentially open-minded person. We are lucky to have her.
Again, this is a woman who has, by her own admission, never left the state of her birth. How did she come by such a broad mind when so many others insist on remaining unchanged by new sights or new languages? Like Macon Leary of The Accidental Tourist, they avoid looking out the window and insist on bringing their own shampoo. They glance or glimpse at the outside world but don’t enter into full engagement with it. If this wonderful educator had never had cause to use an actual passport, her parents or other influences must have set her up with a metaphorical passport.
A passport is a valuable thing to have, but perhaps an open mind is of an even higher value. While there is a definite benefit to taking the opportunity to travel or learning a new language, I would also point out that we must go beyond the headline and approach these things with a more receptive mind or the results could be anything from dull to cringe worthy. I have known people to be stationed overseas for two or three years with nothing but a reluctant, occasional visit outside the venerated gates of our military bases. I have also known real explorers who simply used their DC Metro cards, striking up conversations with strangers on trains and visiting unknown neighborhoods.
As National Geographic’s Christopher Elliot asks, “Is Travel Only for the Rich?” –we must consider travel as something accessible to all as a possible myth. Like post-secondary education, has the broadening of the American mind become cost prohibitive for the vast majority of us? If so, it matters.
I say travel if you can, but we should and can all be travelers in our own worlds. With the advancement of our global technology, we can watch movies and T.V. shows from many different countries and read blogs and books by authors from around the world. When Keats read Chapman’s Homer, he was revolutionizing what it meant to expose yourself to culture on a budget. Would it be better to have read Homer in the original Greek? Probably, but better to read it in translation than to not to read it at all. Keats’ thirst for knowledge was more important than his limited education.
Our family likes to go where we can’t read the signs, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to communicate, trying to learn something everywhere we go. We get to enjoy the feel of other pavements, other landscapes, but we mustn’t forget that we can immerse ourselves in worlds that are closer to home. Be a tourist wherever you are.
As writers, as humans, we should be constantly alive to the sights, sounds, smells—the imagery of everyday life, of everyday people around us. As in “Vacation” by Rita Dove, when the speaker hasn’t even gone anywhere, she finds herself observing her fellow passengers:
Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look…
She observes these airport travelers, but remarks on their interesting ordinariness. We can have an equally inspiring experience if we keep our eyes and other senses open at a bus stop, a coffee shop, a library.
Travel doesn’t have to take us far in terms of miles. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Broadening our minds begins and ends with the metaphorical. It may be easier to do so with a new language or location, but it can be done without it. Just step outside your comfort zone.