St. Augustine once said: "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I've always loved this quote. Just as I've always loved Ol' Augustine. I thought it was a fitting line to introduce a post tailored especially for the holiday season.
I know many of us have been deeply saddened and heartbroken by the tragedy in Connecticut, so forgive me if this post seems slightly frivolous in a time of collective mourning. I, like thousands of others, have been sad for a few days now, and I just thought it might be nice to look at something besides news stories on semi-automatic weapons for a change. However, if it's not something you'd like to read; if you're still focused on those first graders, I will certainly understand.
Long-time readers of The Library may know that I'm a happy traveller. I'll happily suffer DVT Class for 19 hours if it means a week in New York at the end. I'll happily tolerate a cheap hotel in Paris for a few days if it means I get to stay on the Left Bank a little longer. And I'll happily endure a 2 hour flight, then a 13-hour one, then a 5-hour one, then a 4-hour car ride, if it means seeing the beauty of Connecticut during the annual Trade Secrets Garden Weekend in May. (For those who think Connecticut is simply a news story; it's not; it's one of the most beautiful places in the USA.)
For me, travel is one of life's greatest gifts. It broadens the mind as well as the soul. It shifts perspective and changes attitudes. It introduces a note of humility into life, and perhaps also gratitude. I've been to many, many places in the world, and have been so grateful for every single one of them. Without travel, I think I'd be in a very different place in life. Pun intended.
One of the best things about travel is that it teaches us to see and listen all over again. It forces us to really look at the world, and take note of what people are saying. When we travel, we engage in life, and in conversations that we perhaps wouldn't have if we'd stayed at home. We slow down. We chat. We ask questions about the world, and the people we meet in it. We hear stories – wonderful, memorable stories. We nod, laugh, and sometimes cry. And occasionally – actually more than occasionally – we meet people who enrich our lives.
In fact, it's the conversations with the people I've met that I remember most about my travels. It is the conversations that have resonated long after I've come home and reconciled the Visa statement. For some reason, they linger in the memory, like gold dust, adding value to both the journeys and the years. These conversations – and you'll no doubt have them too, on your journeys this Christmas and New Years – don’t always have to be about profound matters of existence either, or full of witty Beatonesque bon mots and piquant Oscar Wilde observations. They can be as simple as a casual chat to the person beside you in the plane, or the airport, laughing with them about the agonies of long-haul flights. They can be as short as the interlude in a Broadway show, when you find yourself engaging in an impromptu review with the stranger seated next to you. And they can be as spontaneous as starting up a debate with the guy next to you at Balthazar's bar, arguing good-naturedly over the differences between Aussies and American cuisine.
Conversation—real conversation—binds us more than anything else I know. It brings us together, as a society. It is, I believe, the matter upon which happiness is based.
Wherever you travel this Christmas season, slow down and have a bit of a chat.
After all, isn't that what life's meant to be about?