Quebec City in the summer is a sensual delight. Blossoms spill from planters and doorways, colors blazing. The history-steeped cobble-stoned streets are highlighted with multi-hued awnings and brightly colored shutters. Doors are enticingly ajar and in the mid-summer heat of our visit, the air-conditioned air spills out and tempts, taunts, and tantalizes. Musicians perform on corners, their musical notes spilling into the air while street acts spring forth in squares, spontaneous crowds laughing, gasping and applauding. We walk, talk, and laugh, absorbing the sights and sounds.
I’d forgotten how important travelingis.
Augustine of Hippo said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” This seems a particularly apt quote since this most recent travel experience was with my book club. While it’s thrilling to turn the pages and see new places, experience new things, etc, I sometimes think the most important part of traveling isn’t the journey, but is the return. Once home again, my “skin” doesn’t fit in quite the same way. Seeing how others live and experiencing a different way of life opens my eyes to my own life. It confronts me with the reality of my daily existence and life choices. Travel shifts my focus–shakes things up a bit. When I return to my “regular” life, I see things through a different lens, and perhaps with a bit more clarity. The skin that fit so smoothly before now chafes in spots.
Since my return, I’ve read that the brain is a discounting mechanism. This was in a work of fiction, but it sounds plausible to me and it underscores what I’ve been thinking. The example given was that of a broken windshield. At first you’re dismayed–”Oh no! Look at that windshield! How will I drive with that?” But perhaps you don’t have the money to fix it, so you don’t and you continue to drive your car. Over time, you no longer see the crack in your windshield. In fact, if someone asked you what happened to your car, you might be confused momentarily until you realized what they were talking about and saw it again. Your brain discounts the crack over time, so that you no longer see it. This is an adaptive mechanism as it allows your brain to pay attention to any new and potentially threatening stimuli in your environment. The crack poses no immediate threat, so the brain discounts it and no longer “sees” it.
That’s what travel does for me. It jars my brain’s discounting mechanism and forces me to see that metaphorical windshield crack(s) in my life. It’s not particularly pleasant, but it’s definitely important. The journey and the return offer the opportunity to make changes, to reassess what I’m doing, how I’m living. After this most recent trip (my first in much too long!), I’m confronted with a multitude of cracks and flaws. I’m overwhelmed and disappointed and my burning urge is to depart again.
So now the question is, do I just keep driving the car or make the effort to fix the windshield?