Keep the Wonder
When you travel, you live with intensity, with wonder. You know you'll experience a place for a finite time. That means you do more, see more, try more than you ever would at home. Each bend in the road reveals a new landscape (new to you, at least). So you feast your eyes, ears and taste buds. You pay attention. No more auto-pilot. Take nothing for granted. Not your bed, your clothing and certainly not the weather. After spending several cold, rain-soaked days (or was it weeks?) in Europe late last fall, the kids and I flew to South Africa. We arrived in November to a glorious 80-degree spring day. During lunch at my friend's beach house, Finley asked, "Are we in heaven?" It felt that way. Today, New Zealand feels like my heaven (thanks to mostly beautiful summer weather and an achingly beautiful landscape).
You miss paradise in any country if you sleepwalk through life. You must be "in the moment." Present not just to see and do, but listen, too. My expat ears seem to work better than my domestic ones. Maybe it's because today's dialogue will become tomorrow's special memory. (Or maybe I'm just straining to understand Kiwi English). I wish it were socially acceptable to whip out a note pad and record snippets of dialogue while chatting with new acquaintances and friends. It was okay when I was a reporter paid to get a story, but would seem strange now that I'm simply telling our family's story. So I listen extra carefully and save the gems for my journal (some of them even make it to this blog).
I file travel memories in a different head space than "ordinary" bits and pieces of home life. How can you appreciate the uniqueness of each day when you drive the same route, work the same job, talk with the same people and eat the same food nearly every day? I believe it's possible (and haven't we all heard we should vary our routes to fire new brain synapses, or some such thing?). Still, I ask myself this question as I mull what re-entry to "real" life will mean (Unfortunately, our re-entry will also include a huge difference from our previous life: my husband, the father of my children will still be gone).
Certainly, there's comfort in routine, a familiar place and most of all, comfort in friends and family who know and love you - who've helped you walk your path. The challenge is remaining present on home turf. What if we allowed ourselves to see our regularly-scheduled lives through a visitor's eyes? What if I stopped rehearsing my own dialogue and focused instead on listening, really listening? My days in New Zealand are numbered. So are the rest of all our days. It reminds me of a story I heard in South Africa: The kids and I stayed at a guest house near the tip of the continent where the owner, a well-known safari tour operator, told me something he'd learned from a famous writer: "The man said people really slow down after age 70. So he carried a pebble in his pocket for each decade he had left before he reached that age. I have just 2 pebbles in my pocket, and within months, I'll have just 1."
I can't imagine or assume I'll live until 70. Life's too uncertain for that. But I can imagine living 7 more days or 7 more months. I'd like to think no matter where we land during those days, my eyes and ears will be open to wonder, to the gift of here and now.