When the kids were little and we lived in Ontario, I remember taking them to a small local book shop. While they played with the collection of toys in the children’s section, I chatted with the shop owner. I don’t remember how we got on the topic, but she mentioned that she and her husband were taking a month long trip to Italy. They had a car rented and they were just going to wing it when they got there. I was more than a little impressed by the free style approach to vacationing so I asked her if she was fluent in Italian. She laughed, “Oh no, we don’t speak any Italian. We’ll figure it out as we go.” I remember standing there, having never traveled to a country where language would be an issue, and wondering what kind of crazy was she. After all, we had just moved to Canada, where they spoke English, and I was daily overwhelmed by not knowing what I didn’t know. She must have sensed my bewilderment because she smiled at me and said, “These are the best ways to experience this world- making our way out of our comfort zones. It’s how we find out that we are, all of us, quite the same. Just trying to do our best, love our families well, and be happy.”
It was one of those conversations, that as soon as the words were spoken, even as they hovered in the air between us, I knew they would leave a mark.
We’ve had some opportunities to travel since that time, and to places where English is not officially spoken. It really does make you slow down and pay attention to what people do, because you can’t always understand what they say. You notice that moms everywhere will swipe at food crumbs on their child’s face regardless of their age. That old people holding hands in Paris will tug at your heart just as much as your own grandparents do at home. Paul and I were in a copper smith shop in Tuscany trying to buy a wine chiller, and the old man and his wife who ran the shop spoke no English. We were limited to my Rick Steves guide to basic Italian phrases, and we had this crazy 20 minute visit that included pointing, gesticulating, and saying words in our own tongue LOUDER, like that was some kind of solution to the language barrier. The whole thing was so comical we were all four laughing. In that small shop, two couples separated by age, language, country, and culture, yet for a moment, quite the same.
As I’ve blogged about earlier, Stephen and I went to Europe with a school group back in January. It was part of something his school does, called Go Week, the week before they come back to school after Christmas Break. Students can take an educational trip, a mission trip, or work in groups here at home on various service projects. This past week, we attended the celebration of all of the trips and service work, where students and adults shared stories about their experiences. One of the students who traveled to Israel was sharing his experiences and talking about the diversity he encountered. He was a very good public speaker, but as he shared some of the interactions he had with children there, he said, “It just made me realize… we’re all, like… people. You know?” A few people smiled and chuckled because it sounded like a teenage summation, but I was smiling and nodding like a Pentecostal at a tent revival. This student had run up against the same truth I had encountered in that bookshop ten years ago. We’re all people. And quite the same.
As the evening went on, some of the local service projects shared their experiences and there were very similar themes emerging. Kids and adults were placed in environments they might not normally be found in, and serving these communities with fellow students they might not normally spend time with. They were amazed at the people they got to meet and how much they valued not just the service work, but the actual community they built in one week. We’re all trying to do our best, love our people, and be happy.
I love to travel, and I am game to go just about anywhere. I like the landscape, art, and culture of a new place. But I am always more fascinated by the people and their stories. My word for this year is ADVENTURE, but it applies to more than just travel. It’s an open invitation to explore and understand all the people and situations I encounter. To embrace the new and (sometimes) uncomfortable, and to rest in the truth that we ARE all people. And quite the same.