Photo: June 2008, Nice, France
When I was 15 I convinced my father to let me travel throughout Europe for an entire summer. Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, England and Ireland. I had been to London when I was 11, as my dad had taken a temporary academic position there, and that’s probably what got me interested in traveling more. But I’m still amazed that I had the curiosity and drive to pursue that European tour and convince my father to pay for me do it at such a young age! It meant that I had to leave all my friends, my serious boyfriend and my family in North Carolina during my sweet 16 summer. None of my friends had traveled internationally. No one was encouraging me. I just saw a random ad about a high school student program that allowed kids to travel together around the world to promote peace and understanding. Not one teacher suggested it. I think I just stumbled upon the ad on a bulletin board and thought ‘Yeah, I’m doing this.’ Amazing. This was pre-cell phone days too, people. No Facebook either.
I was talking with my oldest son tonight as he has friends here in California who don’t know the difference between a city and a country or a country and a continent. One friend thought London was a city within France and wasn’t sure where Paris was…My son didn’t understand how a kid who makes good grades would be so unaware. I had to remind him that he was unique. Since his father lives in Europe and we, as a family, used to live in London, this 14-year-old has traveled throughout the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Austria and Switzerland. He’s a lucky and smart kid. And he doesn’t always see eye to eye with his So Cal friends. So I reminded him that they likely haven’t had the opportunity to travel. But then I thought about my junior year in high school. Why did I want to go abroad? I had a boyfriend who loved me—and that I’d have to leave for an entire summer— an eternity for teenagers! Plus, my friends weren’t particularly interested in traveling past the North Carolina coastline. I really don’t know why I wanted to jump outside of my comfort zone. But I did have access, at an early age, to meeting people from all over the world. My mother’s and father’s friends and colleagues from the academic world talked about their travels. I had exposure to people from differing backgrounds. My dad’s colleagues in his department at Duke University were from all over the world. Having them over for dinner was fascinating. I recall the time a Chinese couple came to visit who spoke no English. It was eye opening. And I realized, at an early age, that travel equaled excitement. You never knew who you might meet. And the other thing I realized was that there are more kind people who are similar to me, (despite speaking another language) than there are those who want to hurt me in this world. It’s liberating to know this. It frees a woman to consider traveling alone and not being marred in fear. My parents, by virtue of their occupations, taught me that. It lessened my fear. My trip when I was 16 opened my eyes, even more than my trip to the UK when I was 11.
There are so many reasons why, but I’ll give you one example. I met a sweet couple in Russia who were so poor they couldn’t afford to go on a honeymoon after their wedding. The bride, who worked at the hotel where we stayed in Leningrad, talked with me every night for a week. She was only 3 years older than me. I gave her make up and stockings and even did her hair. I don’t remember her name, but I know that I helped her feel beautiful on the week she was married. Her gratitude and tears made me feel so much love I thought I would burst. It was infectious. Wherever I went that summer, I met other kids with similar hearts and desires and quirky senses of humor. Friends from Denmark, England and Ireland visited me for years afterwards.
Why am I writing this today? Well, I’m thinking about so many things. The terrorist attack in Nice and my last trip there eight years ago while pregnant with my youngest. William was only six years old and had already traveled more than most Americans. That trip was wonderful. I was pregnant with hope and love and possibility for our growing family. Yet I stepped outside my comfort zone even there. Going to markets alone with William and trying to speak the language. (Yet, discovering the real language was always one of love.) People would smile as I let William smell lavender or rosemary or explained what mussels were or let him try particular cheeses. I loved those markets. I loved the mountain town of Eze above Nice. I loved the love I felt there and felt within. Travel is like that. We see those who we think we have nothing in common with, only to realize that we have everything in common with. It’s so simple and so true. Love is alive and well and always will be.
So tonight I’m thinking about how I’ve always stepped outside of my comfort zone from an early age and it’s not easy to do and doesn’t really get any easier. People will tell you to still travel or embrace adventure and new things, but getting out of your head and fear is hard. For me, I just force myself into it and then since I’m so polite, I feel compelled to follow through. Which is hilarious. But, the over-thinking about what scares me is what drives me crazy. I typically decide to do it (whatever: travel, new adventure), force myself into it an then steep in the fear until the day I leave. It’s like when I signed up to be a camp counselor teaching canoeing, and then had to learn how to canoe! It’s so me. It was terrifying until I took that first lesson, or watched others do it and then entered into the adventure.
It’s the part in the mind that’s the hardest to overcome. So I just sort of jump and then say ‘oh shit’ and hustle to figure it out later. I’m not sure if it’s a great strategy for all aspects of life—but if you’re worried you’ll never leap into an adventure, it forces your hand! I’ve done this so many times…tomorrow at a huge surf party in San Onofre, will be another.
I step outside of my comfort zone all the time here in Southern California trying to make an effort, or trying to be social, or trying to take a chance on love, or trying to fit into this surf / volleyball / beach culture that I didn’t grow up in.
I just have to remember that whether I’m here on the beach with surfers feeling judged by how I look in a bikini—or whether I’m in a bistro in Europe feeling judged for not being able to speak 3 languages or not being as up-to-date on international politics as the others at the table—it’s all the same feeling. It’s a fear of being judged. It’s a fear of not being enough. It’s a fear of not fitting in.
When I step outside of ‘trying’ to fit in and just embrace wherever I am as a new adventure, I remember that we all have hearts that beat and pulse blood in the same manner. We have the same desires deep down. There is no reason ‘to try.’ I will be present and I will be me and I will listen to others and smile. That’s when the magic happens. I won’t try to pretend that I’m anyone other than who I am. When I just connect with others I realize that’s what we are here for. That is what matters. That’s where the magic is. We are all so similar. I see me in you and you in me. Even the parts I don’t want to see…Especially those parts.
Today I am open to all that is possible. I can’t stop the pain and the sorrow from all the chaos in the world today. The fear from these events can cause me to crumble if I let it. Instead, I choose to embrace light and health and exploring new friendships, while still saying a prayer for those in need and in sorrow.