New Landscapes, New Eyes

One of the most common reactions I hear from people taking in the concept of the Year to Live project goes something like this:

“Before I die, I really want to walk on the Great Wall of China.”  Or see the Grand Canyon, go on a safari, explore Angkor Wat, hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

It seems that children also put travel among the top priorities for their lives.  The Make-A-Wish Foundation, for example, grants requests from young people with life-threatening illnesses.  Many of these heartfelt wishes are for cruises, visits to Disney, and seeing the Eiffel Tower.

There’s something so vital to travel.  It’s almost antithetical to death.

While I flat out refuse to buy the ever-popular book  “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”, the very concept of which seems – well – a little greedy to me,  I must admit that I too am smitten by travel.

I feel like I’ve been lucky in this regard.  Early in my young adulthood, I was overcome by a desire to see the world outside of the New Jersey suburb where I grew up.  Without hardly a second thought, I applied for a summer job as a “house parent” in a home for teenage foster kids in Appalachia.  (I still marvel at their judgment/desperation in hiring an inexperienced  19-year old Yankee to manage a high-risk group of kids who had been hardened by years of abuse and humiliation.)

One “break” from the action which I always looked forward to during that Kentucky summer was accompanying the librarian of the BookMobile on her excursions into the heart of Appalachia.  In her beat-up old 4-wheel drive, she’d navigate dirt roads which were sometimes barely passable from the landslides caused by strip-mining, all the while compulsively eating Snickers (donated by the crate-load to the foster system).   With a heart full of compassion, she’d carefully explain the situation of each impoverished family we’d be visiting.  It seemed to me that delivering books was a convenient excuse for checking in with people to make sure no one was starving to death.

After that experience I ventured a little farther, spending a year studying anthropology in California, where I didn’t know a soul.  And then I crossed the Pacific and lived in Japan for a couple of years, choosing to teach English over accepting a coveted slot in the management training program of an insurance company back home.   (Some of my elders were none too pleased!)

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was so hopelessly addicted to travel that I vowed to combine it with my ideals – vaguely defined as anti-poverty and women’s rights – and somehow cobble together a career out of it.   As part of my jobs, I traveled to Bangladesh, Thailand, Kenya, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Peru.  I loved being invited into the lives of locals, thinking about how we were different on the surface, but so fundamentally the same inside.

Now that I have a family, my adventures have mostly been closer to home.   Four hours in a car gets us to the beauty of New England.   Well-planned stay-cations visiting with my brothers and their families are fine by me.

Last fall, my husband asked me where I might like to go with the kids during our long spring break.  He said I’d get 51% of the vote.

I started thinking about all that I’d want to show the kids if this were to be my last year.  What would I want to impart?  What culture would I want them to soak in?  Where would my heart sing?

Tomorrow we leave for Turkey  — land of my favorite poet, Rumi.  The crossroads of Europe and Asia.  Home of baklavah.  Muezzin calling the early morning prayers.  Multitudes of opportunities to talk about how much better the world is when we don’t see things as Us vs. Them.

For now, as we leave our laptops behind, I wish you happy spring and joyous holidays.  No matter how far or near you venture, travel well.

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8 responses to “New Landscapes, New Eyes”

  1. Sven says:

    Have a great time in this most amazing country, there’s no better place to visit before you “die.” Take pictures 😉

  2. Dana says:

    Oh yes. the power of travel…!! I’ve missed it tremendously and have been struggling to figure out how to travel now with a 4 year old, and what sort of experience I want to expose her to with regard to cross-cultural understanding. I’m figuring out how to have 2 weeks in Mexico this Fall; one week alone for me to expand my Spanish skills, and another week with family, including Zola. Longer term, I want to think about cross-cultural experiences that involve getting to know people and look forward to figuring out how to do that.

    Have a beautiful time in Turkey — sans internet!

  3. Kathleen says:


    Yes, travel is amazing, from one who ones, as I have been ‘on the road’ for over 15 years…

    The more I travel, the more I see people, both single and couples, traveling with children of all ages…the best education I can imagine!

    Having been traveling, I think that if I had one more year to live, I would do it at home in my garden.

    much love and light….p.s. I fly to Istanbul on 9th April….returning ‘home’ for at least next six months! Enjoy Turkey and the Turkish people and food!


  4. Katie says:

    As I read this, you’ve offered me a new frame on travel. One of the greatest gifts of traveling is the opportunity to reflect on, not just learn about, how people live–resources and opportunities, priorities and passions. What do we learn about ourselves, and what do we see that inspires us?

    My mother-in-law is a travel agent, and has provided us with some wonderful travel opportunities. On our trip to Costa Rica last year, she provided such a great example to my kids–staying in local B&Bs rather than hotels so that we could spend time getting to know our hosts, and inviting our tour guide to lunch at our table so that we could talk with him about his country, politics (his thoughts on Obama!), his interests.

    I hope you have a wonderful time in Turkey! I look forward to hearing about the trip!


  5. Old and almost unknown Chinese saying, “When you still walk and stand, things will be all right. If you can travel, too, you forestall death.”

  6. Susan says:

    Bon voyage, dear friend and soul sister. Now is the time to embed that streak of wanderlust in your boys — it will only enrich their lives for years to come. Revel in the beauty of the Turkish culture and land. And take good notes — can’t wait for the follow up post. xoxo

  7. Bravo for leaving the laptop behind and truly being present with your family. The world is sometimes too attached to these technicolor screens that most people rarely see the true colors and nuances of the world outside the “picture” frame…including their own door frame.

    Barb, you are always a traveler, whether near or far, via plane or from your cushion. Your boys are so fortunate to have a mother (and a father!) who can and will impart life’s lessons upon them anywhere and anytime.

    The journey is the destination.

  8. Debbie says:

    Oh, I cannot wait to hear about Turkey!!!!!

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