This I Believe

Karen - Seattle, Washington
Entered on October 28, 2007

I believe in traveling, in leaving the familiar to explore parts unknown.

Traveling takes us beyond our small, predictable worlds and stretches the boundaries of our paradigms, our prejudices, our priorities. It can inspire, excite, empower. I need only walk by the travel section in a bookstore to smell musty stone churches, feel cold, salty sea spray, taste cool cream on oven-fresh scones, and begin to speak in tongues: ¿Donde esta el bano?, Parlez vous Francaise? Sucria!

Twice I have left home and family for a year of life abroad with only the airline’s maximum luggage allowance to carry me through. When traveling, I’ve discovered, it’s important to pack lightly in order to leave room for new souvenirs, languages, experiences, viewpoints, customs. It’s hard going to haul around all that extra baggage so I try to let go of non-essentials.

I have found it’s easier to loosen up when I’m traveling. Guidebooks and itineraries are all very well, but mishaps, misunderstanding, and misfortunes will sneak in, and suddenly a “3-hour tour” feels a lot like a Gilligan’s Island episode. The payoff is the stories are so much better afterward.

Journeys take us not only over tarmac and jet stream. In a moment, our lives can be knocked off the personal map we’ve been following to suddenly enter uncharted waters without a compass. As a pediatric physical therapist, I often observe families traversing a new world discovering a new life raising a child with disabilities. Some of the “common phrases” from their guidebook include: “Will he ever walk if we get a wheelchair?” “What is an orthopedist?” “How will I be able to get the family groceries while pushing her wheelchair and a shopping cart with my other baby?” “How can I help my baby eat?” For an hour each week I sit on their floors, hold their children, share in laughter, worries, and tears. We often do not share the same religion, culture, skin color, or even spoken language. But for this time, we are traveling companions, each helping the other to expand our preconceived notions, sojourners in a strange land. The idea is to keep moving, keep growing, keep adjusting, avoid stagnation.

Whether it be to the distant corners of the globe, the far reaches of scientific discovery, the depths of the soul, or just down the street to a different place of worship, traveling beyond the comfortable familiar will leave us changed and all the better for it. This I believe.

karen baker

2007