The world as I saw it in my younger years was predominately the land I conquered on my bicycle, the swimming pool and the trails throughout the forrest behind my house. It was filled with trees to climb, bunkers to hide in and childhood dreams long forgotten.
The world was my friends and family, my school teachers and Wal-Mart, the dairy farm on the edge of town and the smell of fresh cut grass in the summer. I had no idea that as the winter sky was painted auburn and lavender at 5pm it was midnight in Paris. My world was simple. Santa Clause and summer break. Getting grounded and seven o’clock curfews.
Then my parents flew me to Disneyworld in Florida. We drove to the Rocky Mountains, Nashville, Chicago and Dallas Texas. They started taking me places. Marking my mental map of the world with pins across the country. The gaps filled in with real life experiences as we rolled along the highway in our old beat up Chevy van.
We’d return from these long trips and home would always seem the same. Like clockwork, it was as if you’d expect to see the same old preacher sitting outside the bank, awaiting our return. The same old red pickup sitting outside the barber. It was welcoming, in a comforting way.
I was interested in the world outside of Osawatomie Kansas. For my birthday, my parents bought me a globe. I’d spin it and stop it with my finger catching some foreign land or some far off ocean. I read stories about events in Kansas City, New York and LA. I saw pictures of a completely different world in Africa. And the middle east seemed like a completely different planet. I began to give in to the ignorance of cultural stereotypes. You know— how Russians like vodka or that jews are rich. I started putting labels on things of which I only knew the surface value. My mental image of the world expanding with exposure to news and my own conjectures.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Like many of my childhood friends my curiosity led me away from the five mile radius of my hometown. I packed up and moved to Southern California. I found myself in a faster-paced culture. I felt like it was at least ten years ahead of the small-town midwest and twice the speed. It was bright lights and expensive. Money seemed more liquid. It was easier to get a lot of and much easier to loose it. I watched the sun set over the ocean night after night. I’d sit there and listen to the waves crashing. It was ferocious and it was soothing at the same time.
I’d always make it back to Osawatomie Kansas though. Where I can take a deep breath. Where time seems to pass at an ideal pace. It’s where my roots have grown.
My next stop was Cuzco Peru, watching natives dance in the street and gazing at relics of an ancient and mysterious history. Shepherds guiding sheep through the mountains and shantytowns with poverty so abundant it made my eyes water. I remembered the mental map of the world from my childhood and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that these children lived in a reality of extreme economic distress. The leisure vacations, swimming pools and mysterious backyard forests of my youth were replaced with tin shacks, overpopulation, water shortages and smog.
People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves. I had always read stories about poverty of this magnitude but that’s just what it was to me— a story; until I saw it with my own eyes.
Maybe that explains why I’ve booked a one way ticket to Paris. So I can experience the world for myself. I can stop living vicariously through the New York Times, Hemingway or breaking news on CNN. I’m not going for a vacation. Not for a business trip. But to see for myself.
We live in a miraculous era. We’ve shrunken the world and made it possible to traverse ever so easily. I think back to the globe I unwrapped on my seventh birthday in that beautiful small Kansas town I call home, back to those memories when I would watch it spin and snap it to a halt with my finger landing on an unpredictable location. I’m going to see this whole world with my own eyes. That’s my childhood dream that I still chase every day.