I was always the curious girl who asked endless questions, loved to learn, wished to hold, desired to feel, and craved to create from the weight of the world in my hands. Maybe I always loved traveling because I felt that I never really belonged anywhere and was a lifetime tourist or traveler, stranger in a stranger land, and a foreigner in foreign fields as the observer and outsider.
At age 8, I eagerly boarded a jumbo jet to Hong Kong with a small backpack containing my Sega game gear and Barbie dolls. In my mid-teens and early 20’s, I formed a love affair with cute stationary and colored pens to meticulously hand write (no typing allowed) to people from all over the world. Soon following this love affair was me hanging a world map to decipher all the colored continents where I pushed pins to locate someone across the world who would read my words and be my very special friend who gave me new worldly perspectives and understandings. At age 15, I traveled for the first time all alone for about 14 hours to Hong Kong. I had never felt so free and so me all at the same time. Fear was not in the equation in the slightest.
There were many reasons as to why I loved traveling. New and worldly perspectives derived from cultures, food, languages, politics, and everyday ordinary living that was extraordinary. Seeing how much my temperamental body and the strength of movement could withstand from ongoing walking, exploring, and discovering. Most of all, there was something unexplainably magical, powerful, and freeing to be anonymous where no one would know me and my history. A clean slate. Yes, my very own slate to construct these memories and moments in the present and for the future without anyone knowing anything of my past.
On all my international ventures and especially this latest to Spain and Portugal, I was all about typical touristy things: Take tons of pictures, tackle the tasty tapas, feel the flamenco music and dancing, slurp up sangrias, and befriend my persnickety body once again when we tested foreign areas that involved climbing cobbled steps just to feel on top of the world without anyone or anything (including myself) to stop me.
There is so much in life that the camera lenses cannot capture. There are so many words that cannot express the learned and lived experiences. All my glossy and smiley travel pictures that have spoken my words and experiences of joy on my travels have yet to speak of the “if it were me” moments that are not as pleasant, perfect, and pretty, but all the more about reality.
Like the blood red and mustard yellow striped flags that hung and waved in the gentle winds in Barcelona to symbolize the desire for independence and freedom. Like when the clock struck midnight in a stuffy bus station from Seville, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal and I encountered the Puerto Rican boy who wore a “Marvel Comics” T-shirt who spoke impeccable English and Spanish and was using this to help strangers figure out which station to take to get to their destination. Like the middle-aged Spaniard man who caringly and quietly approached me in the blinding and bright supermarket to ask if I was okay when he glimpsed me sitting on an upside down food basket because I felt dizzy and as though I would faint from my blood pressure dropping. Like the man who was lying nearly dead in front of a Barcelona café with holes in his clothes and his flesh rotting of stink so severely that flies nipped deliciously and devilishly at him.
My travel companion and dear friend stopped to stare at this pitiful and nearly dead man to call the ambulance. Back in roughly 2008, we began our friendship with a superficial title of “penpals” when exchanging handwritten airmail letters on cute stationary in even cuter envelopes decked out in stickers. Now with our Spain and Portugal travels that were filled to the brim of deciphering maps, walking with periodic rests, pensive conversations, exhaustion, laughter, and discoveries, I could firmly say that we were friends. Good friends, at that.
Before finding the man who was lying nearly dead in front of the Barcelona café that resulted in her ringing the ambulance, we were about to go to a famous café that served crispy and sugary churros dipped in a cup full of rich and dark chocolate.
She apologetically said to me, “I’m sorry, Mary. We will get the churros after the ambulance comes.”
“No, please do not apologize. You just have such a good and caring heart. People will just walk past and not do anything, but when the police or an emergency happens then everyone watches for entertainment,” I said softly while glancing yet again at this man who we were not sure who was dead or alive.
“Yes, people are really sick. It is just…well, Mary, if it were me, I would want someone to stop to check if I was even alive.”
I stared at her round-eyed and full of dawning realization and understanding.
Yes, if it were me, I would want the same.
“If it were me” moments have had the most profound effect on my life and so many, resulting in compassion, understanding, responsibility, connection, and action for and towards the better. These moments have taken me out and away from myself to try to imagine what it is like for others to become a better me and to do more for the greater good. Truly, when we the last time we ever really put ourselves in other people’s shoes to try to understand even if on the surface? Honestly, when was the last time we showed compassion and acted in sincere kindness rather than ignored in ignorance?
All this time with all these traveling excursions, I thrived on the “clean slate” factor only to conclude now that we never know what has been written and experienced on the slate of anyone. Only when we catch glimpses of these slates that require some help then we should go for it and be a part of the writing on the slates. Although we will never really comprehend or know what a person is going through or how a person feels even when placed in the same situation, we can go outside our comfort zone for the unfamiliar to put us in a place of others and their own perspectives to help, understand, and show and give kindness. Maybe the world needs more “if it were me” for more social and community responsibility.
I do not want to go through life being a tourist to only see the surface. I want go through life being a traveler to feel the substance. That girl in me who was always curious about the world in my hands now just wants make and create the better just from trying a little harder to be and imagine “if it were me.”
Because, the truth is this: Someday “if it were me” could turn into “it is me.”
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,