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Years ago, as I set out on the first of many trips to the other side of the world, a good friend gave me a parting gift- a stationary set featuring a quote questionably attributed to St. Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
There are few things I value more in life than adventure and the written word, and so that line, at the beginning of my journey, resonated with me deeply. I loved that set of notecards, but found I felt uncomfortable addressing them to people, particularly those who’d never left the country. I’d intended to use them to write notes of thanks to people who’ve graciously hosted me along the way, but leaving those words behind with a non-traveler felt a bit like boasting. “I’m reading all the pages,” they declared, “and you haven’t read more than just a few.”
I’ve realized recently, though, that it’s not about how many pages you have or haven’t read. The truth of things is that the world has an infinite number of pages, and perhaps the point is to realize how small a dent you’ve made in the story. The more pages you read, the more pages you find that you’ll never get to; instead of making more and more sense, the world seems wild and unknowable in all the best and most frightening ways.
In the search for understanding, my old self might have once given up in the face of the infinite, but now I’ve grown to see it as a freedom- a freedom from deadlines and goals, a permission to just be. To listen to the songs of wind and mountains, to share tea and laughter with women whose language I don’t understand, to watch the sun disappear red and radiant over a river in the far-flung places of the world. You can step slowly through these experiences and savor them, or race along the trail at an ever increasing speed, drinking it all in as if there is no tomorrow. But tomorrow, you will rise and if you listen- find there are a thousand more mountains, a thousand more cups of tea, and a thousand more things to learn. And then tomorrow comes again.
Perhaps the best thing we can hope to be, then, is a roving band of travelers. To try seeing things with fresh eyes every day- whether in the jungles of South America or under a scrawny ficus in the courtyard of a suburban apartment complex. To explore even ourselves- our ideas and how we came by them. To sit and hear the stories of people and places surrounding us, and hopefully someday, learn to listen.