“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
I don’t even remember where, or when, I first came across this quote–but, oddly enough, I can still clearly picture the stationary on which I jotted the words. It was a to-do list, the long rectangular kind with a magnet on the back for the refrigerator. A multi-colored argyle pattern graces the top of the note, above my handwriting. Blue Sharpie, of all colors–I had nothing else at the time.
So this must have been at least five years ago, probably six, because that’s about the time I went through my argyle phase.
I can’t remember much else about this little sticky note. Where did I jot this quote down? Was it originally when I was teaching English in South Korea, way back in the annals of my history, in 2012? Was it when I returned to the States and was living and working in Seattle? That sounds about right, but I don’t remember that pad on the refrigerator in the Capitol Hill apartment I was sharing with my friend. So then was it after I left Seattle and moved to Iowa to study philosophy and theology? It had to have been a place I was relatively stationary for a while, for me to have even bought a pad of sticky notes for a refrigerator in the first place. So no, not Iowa, because I lived in the dorms at school, and didn’t have a refrigerator.
So. All right, Luke. Why are you obsessing over this pad of paper, of this little sticky note from your past?
Because that paper — that little rectangular note with the argyle pattern at the top — has been anything but little in my life. That paper has been with me ever since I wrote it. It’s been in my journal. It’s been in my wallet, in my pocket, in many of the books I’ve read. It’s been in my passport case, among all the plane ticket stubs and receipts and future itineraries. This little note has been on all the walls of my various apartments, rooms, dorms, and even hostels since I scribbled it all those years ago. It’s been on bulletin boards, on doors, stuck on a handful of windows, and even pinned briefly to my backpack. It has served its time as a bookmark, a coaster for my coffee mugs, a sunshade, and a dozen other makeshift purposes.
This little argyle note has been taped up, wadded up, folded up, stuffed up, pulled down, pinned, repaired, ripped, and repaired again. It’s been photographed. It’s been lost, recovered, and lost again.
This little note, by now, has seen about as much of the world as I have. If I did originally write it during my year-long teaching stint in Seoul, South Korea, that thing has been to at least 20 countries and counting.
This note — this quote — has become my life’s motto. They say that your life quote chooses you, and not necessarily the other way around. Ironic, because I spent so much of my twenties trying to find the PERFECT QUOTE that summed up my life, and o, I found plenty. I found tons that I put up on my walls and bulletin boards: a dozen or so from Saint Theresa of Kolkata (read about some of my time spent volunteering in Kolkata here), half a dozen Psalms, a few from Nelson Mandela I think…
And then there’s this little Post-It, which has been accompanying me all these years, so ingrained in me I haven’t even considered it! How could I have overlooked this one?
This has become a conviction and a belief that courses as deeply inside of me as my blood, as closely connected to who I am as my own DNA strand. Without a doubt, this idea captures exactly what I hold to be true and try to live by, no matter my current circumstance, energy level, Facebook status, present location, or present company. This quote is as timeless, as rugged, as honest and as simple as truth can get.
This quote is universal, and that’s wonderful. No matter who you are, where you are, or what your background has been, no matter your socioeconomic strata, your dreams, your hopes, your visions…the benefits of an open road are available for all. No matter the length of the journey, the matter the mode of transportation, no matter the destination–exotic or seemingly mundane, near or far–a journey is a journey, and it affords anyone who undertakes that journey the chance for a new perspective, the chance for a change.
Possibly of your whole life.
And it’s not just me saying that. This marvelous string of words goes back almost 150 years, to a time when this whole country was obsessed with travel. This quote comes from none other than Mark Twain, arguably the all-time master of adventure literature. His time was exploding with adventure, let me remind you. His was the era of Manifest Destiny, a time when the American Dream was blooming: this was the idea of open skies, the idea of breaking free, going forth out there, into the wild yonder, the tremendous and wild blue (and gold and pink and scarlet and evergreen) yonder. It was a time of finding the path that no one else had found, of dreams bigger than the prairies and plains and mountains of this vast land, of finding what no one else had found and opening up to it, of accepting the myriad marvels and the glories that this wonderful world has to offer. Mark Twain’s time was, I’d venture to say, one when “travel” might have been the buzzword of the century, the most-searched word in Google.
All right, Luke, you’re saying, I get it. What’s your point? I’m open, you say. I’m as adventurous as I can be, and I’m certainly not narrow-minded or prejudiced. So what of this nice Mark Twain concept?
I bring up this quote, my friend, because of what he wrote next.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s life.” (from The Innocents Abroad, © 1869 by Mark Twain)
Now I must admit I am a bit biased, because I grew up traveling — but in this second half, there is a call, and it rings loud and clear through the centuries. In all their timelessness and magnificence, these words invite — no, they urge, they beg that we get up and go. Inherent in this passage is the exhortation to go see and explore, to be curious, to be surprised, and above all to be open.
Why? Because, in short, without travel, without exploration, without being curious of difference, without respecting and honoring the unfamiliar, we cannot be whole.
We need this discomfort of travel, of the unknown, of the language we don’t know or the customs that make us queasy.
Why? Because it forces us to examine our own habits, our own customs, our own ways, and it makes us see that this little corner isn’t the only corner. It makes us less self-centered, and it opens us up to where not we but God is at work in us. And that? That is a beautiful gift, that’s the gift of awareness, and that’s one of the most sacred things that anyone could receive in their life. And whether we’re awake to it at all, whether we acknowledge it in our lives, it’s there. It may be latent; it may be asleep in our hearts — or our livers or our chests or our neurons or wherever it resides — but it’s there. It’s in each of us, and it’s what makes us human: this urge for the unknown is the call from the Sacred, from Beyond, to connect with what we don’t know, to connect with Mystery, with Inexplicable, with Bigger Than Ourselves.
Travel and exploration is, in short, connection with God. When we are outside of our comfort, when we are completely at a loss to explain what is happening around us — which happens when you travel, let me tell you — that’s God opening us up. That’s us being flattened, and stretched, and molded by the loving hands that create us.
“No matter who you are, where you are, or what your background has been, no matter your socioeconomic strata, your dreams, your hopes, your visions…the benefits of an open road are available for all.
So. My invitation for you is to heed the need to get out of your bubble, out of the small little world you might feel trapped in, and to see. My call to you — piggy-backing off of Mark Twain way back in history in 1869 — is for you to honor your curiosity. Cast off the fear of difference, of diversity, of the unknown, because all of that is not fear, it’s God calling.
Let yourself marvel at a place, a space, or a face in this world that reveals to you the breadth, the mystery, and the wholesomeness of this world.
Get out. Go. Even if it’s just to the local Asian supermarket, or to the nearest park to people watch for an afternoon — that counts. For sure that counts. It’s about the journey, not the number of miles. Travel doesn’t have to be far for it to be wide.
Reach out for that new world, today, and see what happens to your own.
(Just ask my mom. We went to the Saigon Oriental Market and Deli here in town the other day, about twenty minutes from my parents’ place. I couldn’t believe how wide her eyes were as she went up and down the aisles, taking in the different spices, the rows of sweet-potato- and jackfruit jam, the varieties of noodles, and all those different flavors of juices. Thanks for being so adventurous, Mom!)
Post-it Image source: kindness.sg: https://kindness.sg/blog/2015/06/03/nkf-launches-kindness-wall-to-brighten-up-workplace/