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Adventures in Columbus 3: Traveling

July 27, 2012

When it comes to traveling, I love the journey just as much as I love the destination. There’s something about long rides in buses, trains, and planes that appeals to me, a fresh kind of perspective on the world that only comes from rushing headlong through new and unfamiliar parts of it.  It never ceases to amaze me when I think about how everyone who is riding with me is going somewhere too, how they all have a story. They each had their own reason to come to the station at seven o’clock in the morning and leave Grand Rapids behind, and they each had something they planned to do next when they stepped off the bus and back out of my life.

It’s strange how easily I forget that the world is full of complex, diverse, unique people, that all of them are living out their lives at the same time that I am living mine and that those lives are just as important as my own. So often, my thoughts rest solely on my life – where I’m going, what I’m doing, what I will be doing next or what I did earlier – and I lose sight of how much more is going on, not just in the world at large, but in the little part of it that I inhabit.

When I went to Columbus, I climbed on the bus, put on my headphones, siphoned a little Seabird out of my iPod and into my ears, and spent most of the ride reading The Night Circus (which I will now shamelessly endorse mid-post because it is a richly imagined, intricately woven and engrossingly told story that you should all read. Now, on with the post). Even during my layover of several hours in Detroit, I hardly so much as made eye contact with any of the hundreds of people who passed through the terminal on their way to every conceivable corner of North America. Of course, as an introvert I can always toss up a smokescreen of excuses about how talking to strangers doesn’t come naturally to me and I probably would have just made them feel awkward, but really I was just being a coward. Part of me wanted to talk to the people whose journeys were weaving in and out of mine, to connect briefly with the larger world around me, but since that idea made the rest of me uncomfortable I kept my head down and my mouth shut.

Who were the people who sat across the aisle from me on the bus, or two seats over in the flimsy metal terminal benches in Detroit? Where were they going? What were they after? I could’ve found out if I had only asked, although something tells me that some of them might not have been eager to answer. After all, I wasn’t the only one wearing headphones, reading a book, watching the shows on the terminal TV, doing whatever I could to keep myself distracted and other people at a distance. Everywhere I looked, there were travelers just like me, isolating themselves. There were a hundred of us in the terminal at one point, and each and every one of us chose to be completely alone.

That doesn’t seem right to me, that we’d rather ignore and be ignored by one another than make the effort to interact. Even something as simple as a pleasant greeting or a short conversation can change the course of an entire day in the right context, and sometimes unimaginably great things spring from one stranger deciding to acknowledge another’s existence, but we’re content to miss dozens of such opportunities in order to maintain the illusion that our little self-contained world of comfort is all there is.

I suppose the thing that really bothers me about this atmosphere of isolation, though, is that I’m just as much to blame as anyone else. I can’t make other people talk to each other, but I can change my own approach to exploring the world. Instead of minimizing my presence every time I leave home, I can seek to break out of my bubble and find out what might happen if I asked someone else to let me into theirs for a moment. Sure, it won’t come naturally to me, but that’s the true of most things that are worth doing. I’m willing to risk a little discomfort for the chance to be a part of more stories than just my own.

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