I just did the math and we’ve spent 45% of this summer away from home. I do really well with routines, they’re predictable and comforting, but when you’re traveling basically every other week it’s pretty difficult to create a norm. As we’ve had the privilege to go here and there I started to develop a post about how traveling makes me a better person, but as I drafted in my head the post started to sound like one of the pretentious family spotlights our neighborhood magazine likes to publish. (“Since our family values a world education it’s very important that little Xavier spend every summer abroad.”) I hated the direction it was going, especially since some of the most meaningful travel I’ve done has been something simple, like camping trips in the mountains 20 minutes from my house. But I still couldn’t quite figure out what it was I wanted to say so I continued to mull over two small instances that stuck out to me from our most recent trip. (Post about that coming soon!)
The first night of our trip we were camping. Noel left to find firewood and left me at the campsite with the kids and a chimney of charcoal. It started to pour rain and of course all our rain jackets were in the car with Noel. I grabbed a tarp and was trying to hold it over all of us as well as the charcoal. Suddenly, a young Hispanic guy was at my side throwing an armful of wood into our ring and lighting a fire. At first I was annoyed. I didn’t want to be bothered. I didn’t need him to start a fire. I had it under control. He chatted politely until Noel came back and the rain dissipated. All the local places were out of wood and if that young man hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have had a fire. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it was nice to have. It made me ponder whether I’m gracious when people try to help me and forced me to ask myself whether I’m the type of person that would jump in to help a stranger in need or would I just assume they had it covered?
A few days later, the kids were throwing bread crumbs into a fish pond. A couple, possibly retired, came to the pond with fishing poles. I pretty much ignored them until the woman asked the kids if they wanted to try fishing. The couple then spent over an hour patiently fishing with our children. When we walked by an hour later we found them helping a new set of kids fish. It made me ponder whether I’m truly friendly and whether I’m the type of person that would give up some of my time to make a stranger’s day.
On one of our long drives, Noel and I were listening to an Invisibilia Podcast titled “Frame of Reference.” The podcast initially interested me because the main story featured an adult woman with Aspergers, but as we listened I also became intrigued about the theme of the show: how our frames of reference “filter our experiences and determine how we feel.” I realized that it wasn’t the traveling specifically that was urging me to be a better person, it was just a vehicle that exposed me to other people’s frames of reference. Stepping outside of my stuffy, suburban routine and being exposed to things, people, cultures, and situations that I might not have encountered in my regular routine was the real secret. (And I think it can also be done to some degree through books, articles, and such.)
When I was in college I had a professor that would often encourage us to take new paths to work or class because it would change our perspective. I remember trying it a few times thinking it was mostly just a nice change of scene that occasionally spurred a new thought or crossed my path with a friend I didn’t usually see. I didn’t realize that departures from my regularly scheduled programming might force me to contemplate a new point of view or become more aware of the world around me. Not every deviation from routine will be life changing, obviously, but I think it’s important for us to shake up what we’re doing and examine whether our way of doing things or interpreting the world truly is the best way.