The stars stood as pinpoints of brilliance and possibility above my head. Smoke from the campfire swirling, buffeted by the night winds, up to disappear among them. Out in Joshua Tree, a few hours from home, I could see the stars for the first time in a long while. My gaze was transfixed, probing upwards from the slab of rock on which I lay in an attempt to see every detail on every world around every star. Such discovery may or may not happen in my lifetime. There’s a high chance that our study of the heavens, aided by powerful telescopes and advanced technology may soon perceive a world much like out own. We’ve only just begun to explore. There is little guarantee that I will be around for any of this — despite my full intention to explore beyond our atmosphere one day. For now, all I can take from these pinpoints of wondrous potential is inspiration. Inspiration to discover the wonders and intricacies contained here, on our own prick of light.
While reading through blogs of Foreign Service Officers in an attempt to better grasp what life is like in that life, I came across what I found to be quite the insight from one:
Travel without contact is just a pretty picture show.
Poignant, and somewhat cutting for me personally. I have certainly been guilty of traveling passively and failing to engage. A good portion of that can be attributed to my naturally inward focused personality. I have never been one to go out and be overly social or engage with strangers. I’m always observant and very respectful to whatever the local culture. This is part of what brings me joy, observation and understanding. So, when I’ve spent no more than three days in most places I’ve been, spoke little to none of the language, and did more observation than engaging, it doesn’t seem a surprise that many of my travels have been closer to pretty picture shows than interpersonal connections. I do think that I have always understood this concept though. It has never been about pretty pictures but about taking in the world, coming to understand it a bit better each time in order to make myself a bit better and a bit more joyful. Which connects into my next adage —
Understanding begets beauty.
There is undoubtedly a difference between beautiful and pretty. Beautiful encompasses much more than surface level and often can not be captured in a shutter snap. It encompasses all senses, the element of the moment, and what makes up the core. It is rare that coming to understand something at an in depth level does not yield at least some appreciation for it. A language, for example. I can recall sitting on an Air Asia flight from Malaysia to Bangkok, surrounded by what at the time was an incessant and infuriating jabbering of a Chinese bachellorette party. A year and a half later I find myself beginning my study of Mandarin (partially inspired by a lost love of Panda Express). The language seems less harsh, melodic in some ways now, and often elegantly constructed. A beautiful script belies a rich history. A bit of understanding and my entire outlook changes on the language, though probably not on the jabbering bachellorette party. In the same way, coming to understand another person gives them beauty. Knowing who they are at more than a surface level imparts a love and appreciation of their beauty.
There’s been a recent kick of Anthony Bourdain’s Places Unknown series streaming on my Netflix — I highly recommend it by the way. While travelling in Myanmar he describes his old friend and travel partner as
Relentlessly curious, and without fear or prejudice.
About as damn near spot on description of a good traveler, it’s a small motto to leave in the back of your head and live by. If you travel this way, you will understand, and when you understand, you see beyond the pretty picture show and find the beauty.