The reason we get up and pack our bags is all different; this is mine.
With the state of the world, I often get asked why I don’t just sit at home and settle down. Find a stable job, get a steady boyfriend, and just do the whole white picket fence thing.
To be honest, with the opening of a newspaper, or more often my Facebook newsfeed, I sometimes wonder the same questions myself.
If we take this back a few years, 2001 to be exact, I can tell you exactly where I was when the September 11th attacks came crashing into my reality. I was very young, in elementary school, and I wasn’t at school yet; it was very early in the morning, and I had had a doctor’s appointment first thing that day.
The radio was on—already a sign of deviation from the norm, since my mom usually listened to cassettes in the car while taking me to school—but it was the abnormality that alerted us to the clogged roads as soon as I’d made it out of the office with a good report. People were frenzied running to their car, passing yellow (and red) lights as though they were in an untoward hurry, and tears were streaming down the cheeks of my mother in the front seat as she overheard the news. I was too young you see, to understand what had gone on, and even after a day spent at school watching nonstop news reports, and being released early to go home and be with my family, I was confused, not understanding what exactly had led to the horrific events that had taken place while I was getting my temperature checked and my growth spurt recorded.
I felt an equal amount of bewilderment at the latest attacks in Paris; I was in Amsterdam at the time, in the airport, stranded on my way to my next destination. Panic was everywhere, flights were delayed, then cancelled, and I waited in lines upon lines trying to get on the next flight somewhere far, far away from there, as I, and everyone else in the bustling vicinity, craned our necks to keep an eye on the monitor, and the disaster as it unfolded.
I couldn’t help but think that my homes, either in the US or Australia, would be infinitely safer than the place I was in at the moment when the news broke, and I wasn’t even in the thick of it. My first fear was for the French, and then my next immediate fear was whether or not I was going to make it out of Europe in one piece. Is it selfish, self-centered, bigoted of me? Absolutely, but as a traveller, I know that my safety is not always guaranteed, and it wasn’t ever clearer to me in that moment. You could say it was my first real scare.
But running home, like you feel is the best thing to do, isn’t how you solve the problems that create these terrible, terrible events in the first place. I thought about my home as I texted my friends, who I had all over Europe, the ones in Scotland, in Nice, in Greece, in Austria, in Lithuania, in Venice, in Ireland, and wished them safety. It was enough to hear the ping of the Facebook Messenger App alerting me to their whereabouts and their ability to respond to me. And it was in my friends that I discovered exactly what all of this would come to mean, and how we could make these deaths that happen at the hands of terrorists all over the world mean something other than a death toll in a banner at the bottom of a newscast.
The immediate effect of the attacks in Paris was a shutdown of the French borders, intense security monitoring the cobblestone, tree-lit streets of Paris. It’s the logical thing to do when you realize that something foreign has disturbed the peace of your world. But shutting down borders, and keeping people away, isn’t how you create the kinds of bonds that lead you to frantically text all your friends from different backgrounds to make sure they are safe. It’s not tightened measures on the refugee intake, or the smaller number of work visas allowed, or the blatant racial profiling at airports, or highway stops, or bus loading zones. Those are the things that separate us, the things that lead us to places where we can’t understand that the freedom to have a choice in the way we lead our lives, and the tolerance to accept that we can all be different and still coexist, are the very things that bring us together.
I’m not saying I wasn’t afraid for my life; I was. And when I called my loved ones, my family, my friends, they all had voices cracking with worry, knowing that I was far away and unreachable. But those bonds weren’t built in fear; they were built with love. And the way to love our neighbors as ourselves isn’t to condemn what is different, but to open our eyes to the beauty of our human minds, and the intensity in which we seek answers, and paths, to pursue our way into the world.
I’d be lying if I told you that there isn’t an innate fear of burqas, or turbans, in the Western world, because of the climate we’ve come to be so familiar with for the past twenty or thirty years. But it’s not the difference in culture that causes us to stereotype, it’s the deepness of our ignorance for the very source of the problem: that we have forgotten how to love the things we cannot understand.
So when people ask me why I continue to travel, I don’t spill into this long spiel; I don’t stop them in their tracks to talk about how as a society, we’ve created the problems before us. I just smile, and I tell them this: I travel because I know there is still goodness left in this world, and there’s nothing I won’t do to remind humanity of that very simple, very blatant truth.