Every man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
– John Donne
To me, travel isn’t just about seeing new sights or eating new sorts of food or driving new and unknown stretches of highway. Really, it’s about border crossings: not the sort of crossing that requires visas and passports, but the sort that demands a willingness to embrace the Other, an openness to the lives and stories of the people we meet, however briefly, as we go.
Every journey is a border crossing.
In light of the happenings in Paris last Friday, I thought I’d share a few of my own border experiences, beginning with one I find quite apropos…
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Christmas Day, 2012. Bernalillo, New Mexico.
It started off with an interesting twist. We went next door to fill up the car, and a Muslim wished me a Merry Christmas. Not a Happy Holiday. A Merry Christmas. We had first met him the day before, deep in conversation with another customer about the merits and nature of Jesus Christ, and whether or not one needed that “personal relationship” to make it to heaven. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t even appear to be slightly annoyed. He merely listened to what the patron had to say and politely disagreed. And then, to top it all off, he went and wished me a Merry Christmas. I thought about telling him he wasn’t supposed to do that, that as a Muslim he was supposed to hate Christians and everything they stand for, including and especially one of their chief holidays. (One wonders if anyone has ever bothered to ask him how Ramadan is going.) I thought about reminding him that, as a soldier in the ongoing culture wars, he ought to be burning manger scenes right and left, and doing all he could to take the “Christ” out of Christmas. But I just didn’t have the heart…
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October 10, 2013. Living Desert State Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Later, as I entered the gift shop in search of the mandatory refrigerator magnet, I asked the woman behind the counter how her day was going. She looked at me for a moment, and responded, “Are you sure you want to know?” Hmmm. “Well,” I replied, “I asked.” As it turned out, her mother had just undergone knee surgery in Lubbock, Texas, and was at that point waiting to be discharged and sent home, a long, cramped trip for someone whose leg had just been cut open. Sometimes, that one little question–“How are you today?”–sincerely asked, is all it takes to create a sense of camaraderie, of fellow feeling, between two people. And it is too rarely sincerely asked. By the time I left the shop ten minutes later, I knew where she was from (Alaska) and why she came to New Mexico (her parents retired); she knew where I was from and why I’m on this little trip of mine. It was a short-lived connection, but a real one. This is the goal, my friends: coming together, however momentarily, as real people. Stranger danger, indeed!
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Christmas Eve, 2012. Santa Fe, New Mexico.
And so, Day 1 draws to a close, as Tammy and I stumble blindly through the door of a small Italian bistro called Mangiamo Pronto! (could there BE a better name than that?), looking like a pair of abominable snowmen who took a wrong turn at the Pole, and calling for a well-deserved cup of espresso. And, you know what? No one yelled at us as we dripped melting snow all over the table, floor, and proximate patrons. Not even close. An elderly gentlemen glanced up warmly and remarked, “Looks like snow.” And before we knew it, we were deep in conversation, having discovered that he and my grandparents hailed from the same Central Texas town…
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We are not so different from one another as our rugged individualism might suggest. Nothing reveals this truth like the open road, traveled with an open heart.
Find your borders, and cross them!