It was eight years ago this month that I lost my first husband in a tragic plane crash. His unexpected death catapulted me into years of travel exploration as I searched for a new beginning in the midst of deep sorrow.
Travel has proven to be a healer and creator of new beginnings. It generously provides varied perspectives on life and teaches us, sometimes gracefully and sometimes with a heavy hand, to see our life within new contexts. In my grief, I had an overwhelming and all consuming desire to see the world. I wanted to literally see of all it and to learn about as many people's lives as I could. My longing was to see life lived out in a million different ways by millions, actually billions, of different people and to learn from them. My life had changed and I needed to forage a new path. My travels were my education and a catalyst for learning that I could bravely choose my limited days on this earth to be lived out in a wide variety of ways. What I saw was both encouraging and challenging. With eyes wide, I tried to place myself within each culture I visited. I imagined what life would be like if I lived there. Every country that I have visited has taught me something about myself and about life as a whole.
Africa played a major role in my healing as it taught me the art of gratitude. I will never forget being invited into a family's home in Western Zambia that was but a tiny mud hut. The walls were barren except for a simple tapestry that said, "Be grateful for even the little that God gives". My visits to various countries in Africa have humbled me for reasons such as this. Who I am to think that I should be exempt from experiencing tragedy and disappointment in my life? Why am I often unable to see the multitude of that which I should be grateful for? Many of the women I met in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and South Africa were also widows. The difference was that they were perhaps not as surprised as I was when it happened. They had not considered themselves immune because death was all around them. I was faced with the reality that as a widowed woman in America, I had much more opportunity with fewer stigmas than they did. They taught me how to practice gratitude and live bravely. A deep sense of responsibility for women in difficult situations around the world began to grow as I met more of them and my own opportunities became clearer in the contrast.
India was a country that spoke to me spiritually. I was taking photographs in Calcutta when a random woman on the street grabbed my hand and said softly, "You have been through much but God wants you to take care of your health as He has big plans for you." I was stunned because I was experiencing some health issues at the time but no one would have known it. She shared with me some other things that were too personal to write and it left me in awe. I wondered what else I might experience if I would only learn to create the space in my life to hear and see it. It reminded me of the importance of taking the time to hear from God and to listen to others. Mother Teresa was an tremendous example to me of a life lived humbly for the benefit of others. Visiting her home in Calcutta was a moving experience and it left me contemplating if I could do what she had done for the sake of others. I am honestly not sure I ever could and that made me love what she did all the more.
China intrigued me and left me amazed. As I gazed at Shanghai's skyscrapers, I felt the pace of life quicken. It intimidated me and in doing so, encouraged to learn more about this powerhouse of a country. Walking the streets of Beijing and Shanghi while moving along with the overwhelming number of individuals, I couldn't help but feel the vastness of this world and the people in it.
Argentina taught me that it was good to laugh, eat, drink, and enjoy the gifts of life. I ate and drank richly with passion and thanksgiving. I learned to drink in the wine, the sweetness of the dulce de leche, the richness of the steaks, and the sheer beauty of the people. While in Mendoza, I met a thirty-something American woman who was living as an expat there. We engaged in interesting conversation over glasses of malbec and I began to plan for a similar lifestyle of living abroad.
California taught me that I could make a home wherever my feet might land. It cultivated my creativity and helped me to launch my new business. The physical part of me benefited from the sunshine, yoga, and clean eating.
Europe taught me that you don't need big spaces or many material items in life. Small spaces are just fine and actually free one up to get out and experience more of life outside the walls of your own home.
When you are grieving, sometimes all you can see and feel is the pain you are in. It is overwhelming and you may just need to get away in order to take a breath and walk along serene waters. I am not advocating travel as a means of escape, although for some time it may be needed. I am advocating travel as a means to see your situation from a broader perspective. I am advocating travel as a means to see life lived out in different ways. I am advocating travel as a means to see that in fact, almost everyone has grieved or is grieving in some way and you can gain strength, community, and healing from that.
Walking along calm waters and watching the fish rise in rural England.