My tagline is “Boundaries divide. Travel unites.” Boundaries define areas geographically into states and nations, into us and them, into known and unknown. Are there boundaries you have “crossed” recently which have broadened your horizons and increased your understanding of what was formerly “strange”?
Boundaries can take many forms. Presenting your passport at an immigration desk makes it very clear that you are moving from one government’s power to another’s. But sometimes we can pass from one frame of reference to another and not realize it until some fresh perspective startles us.
I grew up in Illinois which became a state in 1818. As a college student, I visited Boston and was impressed at how old everything was. Two years later I spent the summer in England. Standing in the Tower of London, erected in 1078, I was struck by how old that was. Since then I have been to Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem, all of which give even more resounding harmony to the word old. And I know that in some circles even these places are still considered young. With each onion layer of history revealed for my personal experience, I had a better understanding of how history and that place relate to what came before and after. How green and inexperienced everything in my life looked from those vantage points!
Do you remember your first time being in a place where you did not speak the language well – or at all? It is continually a shock to realize that you will have more difficulty understanding and being understood than you usually do. Every attempt at communication involves extra thought, careful word selection, and frustration. Moving from conversant to nearly mute, you develop a new sensibility about what really needs to be said. I usually leave a great deal unsaid and just try to smile and gesture a lot more.
We have just completed the election season. Commentators have observed that many voters now live in media echo chambers made possible by our increasingly personalized
media channels. Walter Cronkite and the three national news channels of my youth have been replaced by multiple channels, blogs of all sorts, email, Facebook and Twitter. It is very easy to hear only the news and the spin that we each want to hear and reject other interpretations as foolish (or worse). We turn our neighbors into strangers who believe weird, exotic, or dangerous things, and the gulf between us widens.
I hope that as we move away from this national day of decision we can all take a trip into a state of mind which is different from our usual one. Crossing a boundary to go outside your political comfort zone to consider an idea from another perspective is a very inexpensive sort of travel – but it can be very rewarding. Just as I re-considered the meaning of old when standing in Boston Common, the Tower of London, and the Via Dolorosa, each of us can consider how a national issue looks different from another angle. We don’t have to stay in the place we visit, but we should all venture out to see how the valley looks from another hill. At the very least we should end up understanding more than we did before.
I would love to hear about boundaries of any sort that you have crossed, and what you learned. Or let me know what boundaries you are looking forward to dealing with someday. Sometimes all we need is the opportunity!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
8 November 2012