I said it a couple of weeks ago and I’ll say it again. It’s not the destination but the journey. The real meat of the matter is what happens while you move yourself from one spot to the other. The place you end up at is only scenery.
Travel changes the way you see the world and yourself. It’s about changing your environment and accepting the differences you find; sometimes embracing the differences.
Yes, I’ve had bad experiences, too. The train ride in Alaska comes to mind. There was a woman with an extremely loud voice who insisted on reading out of a book of Moose jokes and would periodically yell out the train window, “Here, Moosie, Moosie!” I was more than ready to change her environment. I’m not sure you have to embrace the differences with fellow travelers.
The three weeks Beaven and I spent in Guatemala at Spanish language school helped our marriage more than I think anything has done. Neither of us had faced such physical and intellectual challenges for so long. We were forced to depend on each other in a way we never had before.
To start with, the water was dangerous so we had to score bottled water whenever we could and keep track of it like the dear friend it was. Then there was the toilet paper situation. I’ve been married to this guy for 40 years now, long enough to know how he feels about toilet paper. I knew how far outside of his comfort zone he was. I never dreamed he would be able to accept the limitations of Guatemala but he did.
Intellectually, we faced learning a language at the time of our lives we had pretty much stopped learning how to learn. We were both mentally fried after the five hours of class each day. But I also found out Beaven has better study habits than I do. He turned into a regular verb conjugation genius.
We had physical challenges with long walks on cobblestone streets. We walked two miles to school every day and it really was uphill both ways. It wasn’t so much about learning Spanish at all. It was instead an important part of the journey called marriage. It was a bonding.
I’m leaving Thursday morning for New York City for a different journey with my daughter, Elizabeth. And we’re gonna just bond the hell out of each other. I think this may be the first time we’ve travelled alone together, just the two of us. The glow of carrying her in my body 38 years ago has worn off for both of us. We haven’t shared a bathroom in over 20 years. It’s not about being in New York. It’s about sharing a hotel room, an airplane, a taxi, a subway with my daughter.
It’s not just about seeing the State of Liberty; it’s about standing on the ferry with a Vietnamese immigrant on one side and a Hispanic on the other and noticing they both have tears in their eyes as the statue comes into view. It’s the realization that we’re all in the same boat together. If you don’t understand Grace better after spending a few minutes with people who don’t have what you were born into then you’re just not paying attention.
The last time I was in New York was November of 2001, two months after it happened. We walked to within two blocks of Ground Zero and the four-story pile of rubble was still smoking. Two months later and it was still smoldering. We walked the same sidewalks that people ran screaming through with a massive cloud of debris chasing them. We smelled the smoke and felt the grief. We heard the tour guide’s voice catch and choke back a sob. We were a small part of the journey America took in the fall of 2001.
This year we will be at Ground Zero on September 11th. I’m sure we’ll see signs of protest over the proposed Muslim Activity Center. And I find myself in a curious position, shifting from where I normally stand on the far left concerning matters of religious freedom and acceptance of diversity. I haven’t moved to the right, I’m only looking at it from a different angle. I don’t see this as a religious matter or even a diversity lesson. It’s about healing. The people of New York City suffered in a way that I will never understand because I wasn’t there. And I expect they are still recovering from the most horrifying day in US history. They have experienced a trauma that I can’t imagine. It’s not about politics. It’s about healing.
I watched a TV show a couple of days ago about that day and realized that my dimming memory had covered over some of the horror. But the cameras saved the images and sounds for me and there’s no way to gloss it over. It was horrifying. And I wasn’t even there that day. I was safely tucked away in Texas watching it on TV.
A lot of the foaming at the mouth right wing nuts will cause the moderates and liberals to automatically assume they’re blowing this Muslin activity center all out of proportion. But this is dangerous. The danger of disagreeing deeply and strongly with someone on a regular basis is that you get lazy and you start automatically disagreeing with them no matter what they say. Then someday you might find yourself disagreeing with them just out of habit when, if you stopped to think about it, you really agree.
I found myself doing this last week. I found my president doing this. Obama said that they have the right to build the center. (He also said he wouldn’t say it was the smart thing to do, either.) What he failed to say was that it really isn’t about freedom of religion. And it’s not about politics or even Islamaphobia. It’s about trauma and healing. And it’s too soon.
We cannot ignore the horror of September 11th and we cannot rush the grieving process. And it’s not really any of my business. I was safely tucked away in Texas watching it on TV. The only people with the right to say what happens in the financial district of New York City are the people who were there that day and who still live there. The people who retrace their steps day after day in the shadow of the ghosts of their friends.
I say if you didn’t get dust on your clothes that day you don’t get to vote on what happens in that neighborhood. And we need to respect and listen to those who did.
**As this blog was being posted I saw a story on TV about a church that’s planning on burning the Koran. This is not healing. This is just stupidity. How different is that from Hitler burning bibles? Healing from trauma is totally different from ignorant dumb-ass stupidity.
Uh-oh. Is that insensitive?