June 24, 2009

I don't know you except for the way a traveler knows a traveler

It's funny how traveling really gets you to thinking about home. When I first came to Europe, I kept thinking of how wonderful it would be to see the world. I thought about everything in terms of monuments and museums. I was focused on what I could learn about the world by traveling Europe.

All of that is still relevant, I suppose. But maybe not as relevant as the fact that I have learned more about myself by traveling Europe than anything else. I am the same person whether I am in Michigan or Utah or France or Holland or Belgium or England or Scotland. I am the same person sitting here at an internet café in Italy. Yet I feel completely different. I often wonder about why this is, but I think I know the answer now. I am me everywhere. But never in my life have I been left so completely alone with myself. So much of who I am is defined by the people around me... my family, my friends, my teachers, those people in passing who come to mean so much. I operate according to what is familiar. Here, all of that is gone. I am forced to create a new familiarity with nothing but my own eyes and my own heart and a place that is completely foreign.

What I really wonder is why we romanticize the unfamiliar. I know I always did. I figured Europe would be cooler than the States because... well... it's Europe. Yet as I have spent hours driving through the countryside, I realize that the scenery isn't all that different from the places I call home. Yesterday I took a day tour through the Highlands in Scotland. We passed by many beautiful things and the driver would ask us "Can you feel the DSL (Deep Scottish Love)? Can you feel it? I know I can, and I see this every day."

The Scots... talk about a people with pride for their country. They love who they are and where they are and what they do. Shouldn't we all have that for ourselves?

Perhaps the most important lesson is one I learned from Albert. He was our driver in southern France. When I asked him why he would spent 40 weeks out of his whole year with a bus full of obnoxious college kids wanting to see European landscapes, he responded, "J'aime tout le monde. Il faut aimer tout le monde." I love everyone. It is necessary to love everyone. And let me tell you, this is a man who practiced what he preached. This is a man who stayed up late into the night to take a girl to the hospital. He waited there with her for hours and helped her get a prescription. For the record, that girl was me. And when I thanked him for everything he had done, his response was "C'est normal." I tried to tell him that it was anything but normal to be so kind to someone who is more or less a stranger. His response? "Il faut aimer tout le monde."

If only there were more people like that. If only I were like that.

Which brings me back to the overarching principle. Places are nice. They are interesting. They can be sources of great pride and comfort. But people? People are everything.


  1. Beautiful words. I think you've learned the lesson that defines adulthood. Our hospice chaplain that comes in to see our dying residents says, "Whenever someone is going through end-of-life review, very rarely does it deal with anything but relationships. They may regret they never took a road trip to California, or got to see the Grand Canyon, but when the Death Angel comes, only relationships matter."

  2. Thank you for the comment. I have been keeping up with your blog, although I can't figure out how to leave a message and let you know how much I love your way of writing. It is so natural, and your sense of humor is oddly close to mine at times. I just love the insights you have about life and family and motherhood. I'll have to take notes for when I have my own little nuclear unit. :)

  3. amen to this post, rochelle.

    and p.s. i miss albert