Thursday, October 05, 2006

Geographic Therapy

I'm never quite ready to come home from vacation - wherever I have been.

I call it "geographic therapy" when I'm at a crossroads in life, or need to regroup, or am having a difficult time. Being away from our standard surroundings is a great way to get a new look at things. Plus, when you're taking a road trip, all that time driving is good for some right brain activity.

Some of the most memorable moments of my life have been while traveling.

I will always remember the first night we were in Paris. We arrived after a long day of travel from London - taxi-train-ferry-train-taxi - and were exhausted. But, we walked down to the Louvre, a few blocks from the hotel. We had spent so much time planning the trip, poring over maps and reading books that we wanted to see if things were where we expected them to be. They were. We stood on the plaza, with the pyramid at our side and looked across the Seine. It is a moment that is crystal clear in my mind. I remember the breeze, the slight chill in the air, the sound of the traffic and the glow of the clock at the Orsay. It was completely and totally magical. And I knew it was a turning point in my life.

Although I had been out of the US before, that was my first trip to Europe. And, even though I'd been in England for a week prior to that and enjoyed it, it had not had the same effect on me. It was Paris where I had been meant to be. And it has been Paris that has drawn me back multiple times since.

There are places we feel "at home" and Paris is one of those for me. I can get irritated being in big cities - the people, the noise, the traffic, etc. - but when I'm in Paris it all seems effortless. It is a place I'm comfortable.

That night as we stood there, looking out on the scene we'd only imagined before, I knew that my life would never be the same. I knew that travel would always beckon to me. I knew there was something inside me that could only be satisfied by travel.

As I traveled more, other cities called to me as well. When I arrived in Cairo less than a decade later, I knew another era of travel had arrived in my life. I was already changed when I got on the plane, much less at the end of the trip. It was the first major international trip I had taken on my own and it came at a time when I seriously needed some geographic therapy for a multitude of reasons.

Cairo felt at home, too, but in a very different way. It was a place I needed to go. I needed to sink my toes into the warm sand of Sakkara, to be part of the masses in Cairo, to wander the temple in Luxor, to meditate inside tombs. Until I was in Alexandria, I hadn't even realized how much I had longed to breathe the air blowing across the Mediterranean. But when I was standing there on the rocks, the wind whipping my hair, I knew it was something I needed - something that was an essential in this lifetime - something that had to be done.

There are times when we know we are meant to be in a particular place at a certain moment. It's why we are drawn to places and people at various times in our lives. It's also why sometimes we're not attracted to the same people over time - we handle our business with them and then we have no need to repeat the experience. It doesn't mean we don't want that person around anymore, but our relationship is changed because we have taken care of what we needed to do.

I sometimes wonder if those of us who are driven to travel have a lot of unfinished business and therefore must seek the others we need to communicate with. When we're travelling we're much more open to those encounters that might slip by us at home. We are all circulating, meeting those we are destined to meet, handling what we need to do, and moving on to the next event.

Every trip offers some of these things, some just more intense than others. But I'm always mindful that the experiences we have are never happenstance. It is all meant to be.