The fall after I finished college I jumped at the chance to travel by helping a friend move to France (in reality I’m not sure what help I was providing since I didn’t speak French and she had many of her things shipped, but I digress…) The plan was to spend two weeks in Paris and eastern France with my friend and then I’d make my way back to Paris, meet Pearson, and we’d take a train to Italy. So I left my job, packed way too much stuff, and headed across the Atlantic.
This was before smart phones and facebook and constant connectedness. These were the days of internet cafes and calling cards and pay phones. My friend did have a French cell phone, but it was only for receiving calls and local use, because it was way too expensive to call internationally.
I was in Epernay, in the Champagne region of France east of Paris, when I got a message on my friend’s cell phone to call home, I found a payphone and learned my grandfather had died. Aside from the grief, I remember feeling a bit panicked about logistically how I would get home, but I also knew I would get on a train to Paris the next morning and get to the airport and figure it out. I didn’t really feel any farther away then if I were in my apartment in New York, either way I wouldn’t have been with my family in Buffalo.
That’s when I realized that the world is small. I was thousands of miles away and I just hopped on a plane and was back in a day (okay, it was really a bus to a train to a subway to a plane to another plane to a car…)
And less than a week after that I was back on a plane, with Pearson this time, on my way back to Paris.
Since that time, the world has become more connected through cell phones and facebook and twitter and now it feels even smaller.
So an interesting thing happened when I started traveling through the United States last year, I realized just how enormous the world is. I set out to take in the country, to see “it all”, and I’ve realized that you can spend a lifetime exploring just North America and still never know it all. Every time we decide to go one place, it’s a decision to not go to another place. And the United States is just one country.
And that’s the paradox, the world is small, we can fly half way around it in a day, but it’s so full of amazing things that it’s vast too.
Similarly, we can all be connected through social media and the internet and through six degrees of separation we can all know someone who knows someone… But no one will ever meet every person on the planet and not even every person in America and even if you tried people are dying and being born all the time. In that way, once you’ve visited a place and you come back it has changed, it’s not the same place it was the last time and you’re not the same person you were. So really all we have is here and now. And that’s the paradox of life, the world is enormous and time stretched behind and in front of us further than we can count; yet all we can truly have is this moment and the space we can see and feel.