Living the dream
I had a dream when I was a kid. A literal, “I’m asleep” kind of dream, that is. This isn’t an inspirational post. In it, I’m swimming along the bottom of the pool, my favorite place in all of Childhood’s Kingdom, when I realize I can breathe down there. Not fully, not well, but if I calm down and do it just right, modestly, I can breathe. I remember an infusion of calm and an understanding that everything could be fantastic. Could be better than I’d known to hope for. (It wasn’t until later that I suspected I’d just rolled over and was breathing through my pillow.)
This morning I’m coming up for air. After 21 days of Best of Europe tour-guiding, I’m waking up to a day without appointments, no reservations to confirm or information to convey. Not even a city to depart.
The street is polite vespas and well-dressed Parisians, nothing on my plate but baguette crumbs and the promise of more good food to come, perhaps after a stroll by the Seine? And I remember that dream. Its epiphany that I can do something I really enjoy and get the air I need while doing it. And I realize that’s what I’ve been doing for 21 days.
I’ve been swimming, diving into Amsterdam’s historic harbor before turning up the Rhine to reach Austrian Alpine passes, waterfalling down Roman roads to muse about Venetian canals before making my way through old Florence to reach older Rome, just to smile and drift up into Swiss glaciers, a liquid core of calm that persists when I slide down through the vineyards of Burgundy to wash up fully rational on Seine shores.
And I’ve been breathing.
Water was an element of my boyhood joy, and travel is essential for my adult satisfaction. Sharks and me, stop moving and we suffocate. But it’s not a compulsion, not addiction, neither distraction nor delusion. It’s adoration. Adulation. Celebration of our worldwide nation and the strokes that pull us all together.
For years I traveled. Helpless before my vagabond urges. It was right for a time, but wrong in the end. Insufficient for the long term, serving nothing but my whims. Now there’s a purpose to my travel. In a world of multimedia capitalists who profit from our fear, who compete for the spectacles that widen our eyes and shrink our horizons, I find something more worthy than mere movement when I take others with me, show them these faces of beauty left here by centuries of human struggle and millennia of natural process.
For twenty one days spread across half a dozen countries we delight in the reality of the places, rooms in our global house, and I watch the tension of the first day dissolve into the ease of the last. Day One I see apprehension when I show them the train track that will reliably bring them home, Day Twenty I drop them off in Paris’s elegant metro maze and say “See you tomorrow” and they’re off without a pause.
And in the calm, when they don’t need me at all, I can imagine them going home, feeling merely tired, to be greeted by the anxious homebound with their pinched brows who desperately inquire “You were in Europe? But weren’t you worried? Didn’t you feel unsafe?”
And in my daydream I see their calm smile, perhaps wearing the appropriate regret for the incidents of the moment, but underneath is the deep understanding that the world is something other than the misconception made up by those make-up talking heads. And my traveling companions ease back to a full library of happy moments, warm welcomes, beautiful humanity and they can shrug off the constipated clench of petty terror. Stories they know better than to buy, now.
No, they didn’t feel unsafe. They felt free. If I did my job right. And the memory of every one of their smiles resonates within me, and I feel that dream’s sense of delighted astonishment, astonished delight, and can pull in deep lungfuls of fresh air.
Maybe it’s an inspiration post after all. For me, anyway.