Travel reminds us that we pale in glorious insignificance to the sheer vastness of this world. It awakens in us the understanding that there are six billion other beings walking beside us whose dreams, struggles and triumphs are just as real and raw as our own. It breathes life into a sense of perspective that is greater than the most precious earthly possessions we own.
But it can also shake us up, unravel us. Like a toddler that ferociously shakes a snow globe; there are moments of magical beauty and awe, however when the snow settles things have shifted. After I travel, my perspective seems to have traveled too.
Bartering in the chaotic markets of Delhi
Savouring an espresso in Vienna
Traversing the pot holes in Timor-Leste
Diving with whale sharks in Kho Thao
Gazing in awe at the stain glass of Sainte Chappelle
Standing atop of a rubbish dump in Cebu
Regardless of the continent, country or state that I have embarked upon, one constant continues to be moulded. Perspective.
I have been blessed to have been able to travel in the capacity that I have, however I am no high-flying jetsetter. I am not a travel blogger, nor am I someone that has any intimate knowledge of all-things-travel. Yet, I am lucky to have experienced more than many will ever have the opportunity to. But try as I may, I still have not experienced a destination that has not tested or shifted my perspective.
Who am I in, in this vast world?
What am I pursuing, in this life of diverse pathways?
Why was I lucky enough to be born in privileged circumstances, in this seemingly unfair world? Where is God, in this place of heartbreak and squalor?
Where do I fit, in this destination of entitlement and self-satisfaction?
It was a month ago today that I touched down on Australian soil following what many would describe as ‘the trip of a lifetime’. Six glorious weeks of traversing the diverse continent of Europe. A white Christmas, a family affair, a smorgasbord of delicacies.
Much of this was written whilst ‘people-watching’ as I devoured my second daily gelato. Those moments, where I was merely an extra sitting in the background of the life of a European local, taught me more about myself than it did about those that I observed. This is not a groundbreaking discovery; sociologists have known this for centuries. However, how often do we take this information and actually let it resonate deeply? How often have I touched-down, sighed a relief for being back under the protection of my ‘lucky country’, and then swiftly forgotten all of the challenging moments that I had experienced abroad? And by challenging, I don’t mean that time where you had to work out how all of your exotic shopping would fit in your suitcase. Rather, those foreign moments that rocked you deeply to your core, unearthing questions that have no straight or simple answer.
This trip, I declared would be different. No longer was I going to shield myself from being deeply shaped by my experiences.
Someone famous once said, that it is in looking back that we understand. We live our lives backwards; we encounter initially, yet it is not until later that we understand and experience the gravity of that encounter.
So, what did I learn? I learnt a lot about European history, and a physical example of why chocolate croissants do not fit Michelle Bridges diet plan.
To be honest, I didn’t have a monumental epiphany. But the following was reinforced: I am a drop in the ocean, I am loved eternally, and that this life we are living is a fleetingly beautiful experience.
There were times where the roar of the Champs Elysees overwhelmed me. Moments where standing on the side of a cliff in the Swiss Alps made me feel terrifyingly small. There was a time, when standing in a Nazi concentration camp I couldn’t fathom what my souls significance was in the big picture of this world.
And then it dawned on me, I am small but I am powerful. I am but a grain of sand on the beach in the scale of this world, but my life truly holds potential. This is a thought we so often don’t allow ourselves to fully own or accept. Why would we? It’s such a self-absorbed perspective; it’s so ‘arrogant’. Especially when we are constantly reminded by society of how unworthy we all are. But my travels truly reinforced the belief that we are all necessary; we are all needed to complete the puzzle that is this crazy world in which we live.
So rather than being overwhelmed and discouraged by how infinitesimal travel makes me feel, I’ve decided to see it as an agent for change. Travel allows us to see that there are people on the other side of the world that have the same struggles as us. It also reminds us that there are people on the other side of the world that make our struggles pale in comparison. Both of these things have helped me understand where I fit in this jigsaw puzzle.
It’s a jigsaw puzzle I’ll probably never complete or understand, but it sure is fun to keep on trying.
Sally is a lively 23 year old who has recently finished studies at QUT and ACU and is now leading Marist Youth Ministry across Queensland and Northern New South Wales. She has travelled widely and is passionate about social justice, having volunteered in countries such as India, the Philippines and East Timor. As a qualified high school teacher, she is passionate about investing in the needs of young people and loves any opportunity to engage with youth and young adults.