The View from Outside the World

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“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

The world is a scary place. Or, more accurately, a lot of people around the world are scared. Yesterday alone, attacks across Europe shook politicians and civilians, even as ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen – to name just a couple – continue testing our ability to just look away as innocents suffer. Meanwhile, in America, the next president was officially given his Electoral College victory even as a sizeable portion of the nation’s population looked on in dismay. It was for much of humanity, not a happy day.

This post has no answers. It isn’t about stomping the ground for some political point or pleading for you to donate money. I mean, yes, please, do that if you can; there are no shortage of causes demanding your attention. If you’re a charitable person, consider yourself blessed with an abundance of opportunities to prove it.

I believe there are answers to all of these problems; I just don’t have them.

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This is a blog about travel. I write it because my undying hope is that we will make our world just a little bit smaller by fulling appreciating how vast it is. I write this blog because I refuse to allow borders to be prisons.

The attack in Germany appears to be terroristic, and at this moment the prevailing theory is that the attacker was an asylum seeker, a Muslim immigrant. Of course, anytime anything bad happens in the world, that’s the prevailing theory. No matter who turns out to be the perpetrator, there will always be people who believe immigrants in general – and Muslims in particular – are a danger to society.

History is clear on this: the Outsider is always evil.

Of course that’s not true. There is not a person reading this who wasn’t an outsider at some point. Maybe you’re an immigrant, or the children of immigrants. Maybe you’re a Muslim in a Christian society, or vice versa. Maybe you’re gay, or an atheist, or transgender, or disabled. Maybe you just never fit in.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting all outsiders are the same. Some people are put on the outside for the good of society: Murderers, rapists, thieves, so on.

The point is, we’re all on the outside of something. Even Trump, a rich white man from New York City who was born into money still managed to run a campaign as the “outsider” candidate. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

There are millions and millions of people around the world who want nothing more than to be inside the United States, who want to be accepted here and given access to the opportunities and freedoms many of us take for granted. Just by birth, some were blessed with the ultimate insiders’ pass. I’m one such person. And all I want to do is get outside.

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Every year for a decade, I moved to a new city and over a period of 12 months, I worked my way from outside to inside within my new home – and then I started over. I won’t pretend my journey was even 1/100th as difficult as those of immigrants moving to a new country. One thing we Americans often take for granted is that we are lucky to live within a country that is so diverse in culture while still unified by language and common experiences. I will never understand the people who don’t take advantage of that.

What 10 Cities/10 Years taught me was to not be afraid of being on the outside. As I plan my move to Spain in 2017, I’m reading accounts from those who have already done it, and the most consistent sentiment I read is, “The hardest part for me was being away from friends and family; it took me a couple months to make friends here.” I can only smile, because that stopped being a concern for me many years ago.

I want to be on the outside. I want to learn new things and be confronted by circumstances where my previous experience and knowledge isn’t sufficient. I don’t expect to enjoy every step of the journey or to always succeed. I will regret choices and wake up some days thinking, “What have I done?” That’s called traveling.

Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown. Terror is the most basic response to what is going on the world, but compassion should be as well. Empathy and a desire to understand, these should be just as powerful emotions within all of us or our world will continue to deteriorate. We can’t keep pretending that just because something happens on the other side of an imaginary line that we won’t be impacted.

Yes, the world can be a terrifying place. It’s also a beautiful place. I’m not sure it could be one without being the other. We can’t appreciate that dichotomy if we don’t get out and see it for ourselves. And we won’t ever step outside if we are motivated solely by fear.

If you’re the kind of person to make New Year’s Resolutions, may I suggest a very simple one for 2017: Don’t be afraid. Don’t let what scares you dictate the kind of life you’ll live. Learn to appreciate what it’s like to be on the outside.

And, you know, travel.

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