Why do we travel? Why do people ditch their comfort zone, their habits, their circle of knowledge and jump off the precipice? There are as many reasons as there are people who do it. For me, there’s a certain God complex in going elsewhere.
“God Ate Here”
While I don’t consider myself a religious person, I have had painful and serendipitously spiritual moments. Two of those involved seeing God. Neither happened in my own country. Far be it from me to try to prove to the nonbelievers, but there can be no mistake when your world, the sounds in it, its scents, and the sense of time all dissipate, leaving you with nothing but an image too divine for the imagination.
My first God moment occurred in Pondicherry, the only colony France established in India. The man I saw walking down the street might have been some sort of priest, but he appeared like God incarnate. The crowd of thousands surrounding us disappeared from my sight. The sounds of blaring cars grew silent. The concept of time seemed never to have existed. Merely walking down the bustling street the ancient man never saw me but he commanded me to stop my picture-taking. I stopped in my tracks, mesmerized by his presence that brought to mine Buddhist Nirvana. Five years later my body seems weightless at the thought of him.
Writer Jeff Greenwaldhad a similar experience, magnifying why that part of the world holds such mysticism. ‘When I was 25, travelling through Europe, I met a beautiful young woman in the Athens Museum. She was a medical student, taking a couple of weeks to explore Greece before going off to study Ayurvedic medicine in Kathmandu. I’d never heard of Nepal, but we fell in love. When she left, I stayed in Greece and worked like a dog to be able to go to Asia and meet her. Kathmandu turned out to be the most exotic, inspiring and human place I’d ever been. The romance itself went nowhere, but it was a powerful catalyst. Kathmandu became my spiritual home,’ he said in an interview in Himal magazine.
A God’s Perspective
When you see funny, frightening, disappointing, or illuminating aspects of the human condition. These are often the moments that get you past loathing a culture as I did China. I recently discovered, for instance, that a very intelligent and hard-working high school boy I taught in China is making his and his parents’ dream come true by studying in England. So proud was I for James and his parents that tears almost sprang to my eyes. While most people I met wanted to study in the West because it was “cool”, I felt James would add tremendous value to his class and, afterward, to his country. Secretly I hoped he’d go to the US after England. His intelligence, eagerness to learn, artistic skills, and quality upbringing made him destined for great things.
From him I understood why Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
I also understand why Antonio Demasio said, “The drama of the human condition thus comes from consciousness because it concerns knowledge obtained in a bargain that none of us struck: the cost of a better existence is the loss of innocence about that very existence.”
These are also the moments when you realize how much of our actions are based simply on the fact that we’re human. Everyone trips. We all cry. Everyone has family problems. We all think about money. Everyone wants to give and receive love. Parents want to give their kids a rich, rewarding life. Cultures may approach life differently, but regardless of the country we come from or the color of our skin, as my Daddy says, “We all put our pants on one leg at a time.”