When I was younger, I had big ideas about travel and the jet set life I would lead. My family never traveled much when I was a child, with the exception of my mother going back to England on occasion. My travel dreams started in books, where I could read about different places and times and people. When I joined the Army, I began to meet people from all walks of life and then I was stationed in Germany (West, at the time) for a couple of years, where I traveled to other European countries.
After the Army, I returned to the midwest to attend college and to get my bearings. I was still single, struggling to juggle jobs and school and some self-destructive habits/boyfriends. I would hear about my Army buddies – one worked for a while at the Pentagon, another became a diplomat, many went into law enforcement. Their lives sounded exciting – they traveled and interacted with important people or had important jobs. I felt envy and a little shame that I weren’t more ambitious or adventurous.
In truth, I’ve always been a homebody and it showed when I traveled. I liked to observe and was never happier in my travels than when I could find a good cup of tea or coffee and a park bench. I like to watch people – how they interact, how they laugh, how their self-consciousness showed or didn’t. I’ve never wanted to climb to the peak of a mountain or eat raw, squiggly things off a piece of bark. I’ve never wanted to meet movie stars or have front row seats or backstage passes. I like to go places and sit very still, unobserved and undisturbed.
One of my favorite story characters is Miss Jane Marple, written into life by Agatha Christie. Miss Marple is an elderly woman with a keen sense of observation and the ability to see the larger picture by being well-versed in all the workings of her little village, St. Mary Mead. She spends much of her time (even while vacationing in the Caribbean) sitting and knitting while she watches the world go by. Because human nature is universal, she is a sharp and skilled detective because she knows people and their behaviors. Her world appears small, but because it interests and excites her, she has a view to the world at large.
We have a small suburban yard, but it’s an entire ecosystem. We don’t use any chemicals, so our gardens attract all manner of creatures. We have stacks of books that identify beetles and butterflies and bees and we rush excitedly to grab the guides whenever something new shows up. It thrills me when I hear my daughter excitedly say “Mom, there’s a hawk on the fence” and she runs to grab our bird books. The world is in our yard – life, death, pestilence and amazing examples of survival. But it’s only there for us because we are interested and curious.
I love this idea that openness and curiosity means that there are adventures, stories of interest and new things to learn around every corner, no matter where you are. I am not as good about people, since, in day-to-day life, staring at them is considered rude and there are very few good guide books. I can find an occasional park bench, but in city life, the park bench is one’s willingness to make and to listen to small talk – in the grocery store, on a bus, out in the yard as neighbors walk by. This park bench requires listening while shutting off judgment and opinions. It is staying open to another human’s experience of the world.
My envy of others’ adventures has morphed into an understanding that we are not all the same kind of travelers in this world. And we are not always the same kind of traveler throughout our lives. Sometimes our adventures happen right at home – a new career, raising children, retiring, learning a new hobby or language, stepping outside our comfort zones. For now, I have all the adventure I can handle. I am content, for the moment, to sit back in my armchair with a good cup of tea and take in the world. No knitting required.