I am writing this from a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts in Newark airport. I couldn’t tell you who is more concerned about this, it’s a toss up between my best friend Brooke and my dad. I am eating a pretty pathetic banana that I hope for his sake has seen better days. Because not only is he pathetic looking, he’s also getting eaten, which is a lousy deal all around. I’m basically writing this because I hate the social-highlight-reel that we all get sucked into. I like truth better.
I’ve just finished a three-day trip/adventure to New York City that was, for all intents and purposes, wonderful. But for three days, there were quite a few low moments. The circumstances under which I am writing this probably qualify.
I truly love to travel. I love being bone tired and having my senses absolutely overwhelmed by combinations of sights, sounds, and smells that were completely unknown to me prior to that experience. Probably the best thing in the whole world is making a new friend while travelling. I can now confidently say that I enjoy Nairobi as much as Naples as much as New York City. I just like to go. I don’t really care where.
Being some place new humbles me and teaches me and gives me great cause to worship God. And while I may seem small and inconsequential against the backdrop of the great New York City, my mind still thinks, my heart continues to beat, and my soul cries out for the living God. That is far from insignificant, I believe. Mostly, travelling reminds me to ask a lot of questions I sometimes forget to ask.
Travelling is at best a delightful whirlwind of experiences that leads to great memories and moments of self-revelation that you can look back at and see as a metaphorical growth-spurt. Look mum, I grew three inches! Travelling at its worst is a series of frustrations and unrealized opportunities, and probably a lot of self-revelation you would have rather left unrevealed. Who do you become at your most uncomfortable? That question has led to a lot of me acting horribly and my conscience responding with “Yikes, Mag…”
More than that is the reality that you are alone in this new world you are discovering, and being entirely unknown is a certain kind of thrill. You can be anyone. Try out an accent. Wear weird clothes. Get a piercing. It’s why people make impulsive decisions on vacation – no one is there to tell them who they’ve always been and what they should do according to that persona. There’s a definitive lack of accountability. Something about that not knowing anyone in a sea of faces makes you question whether or not you know yourself. When there is no one around to tell you who you are – no parents or peers or professors – who do you become?
I had always prided myself in my individuality and self-confidence before leaving home. In truth, I was not nearly as independent as I thought. I craved input from others and wanted to be told what decisions to make so that I could dodge responsibility for unsuccessful endeavors… I feared disappointing others, and feared failure in an almost paralyzing sense. Most importantly, I had entirely built an identity around the people in my life instead of rooting my identity in Christ. I had become what people wanted or expected of me rather than who God had created me to be. Without being forcibly disconnected from my family and friends, I’m sure I could have avoided that problem for much longer. (I am like, a professional avoider, thankyouverymuch.) I’m so grateful that travel has a knack for thrusting truth right in your face. Hard to avoid, that.
Watching hundreds of people unknown to me walk by my little bench in Central Park gave me a surge of love and appreciation for the people I have in my life. Being alone in a big city helps me to cherish the people I have the pleasure of returning to when my adventure ends. But those people, as dearly as I hold them in my heart, no longer dictate who I am or what I do. Discovering who I am in Christ has been a 2-year long journey, and I look forward to that journey continuing.
Here’s another thing: not being able to access google maps is slightly terrifying. My phone died at one point and I couldn’t get my data to connect at another. I will say this, I became instantly more aware of my surroundings, and was fairly haunted by the question: where am I actually going? Not just now, but really – What’s next? (PS, props to NYC for having maps literally everywhere, and thank you Mum and also Chicago for forcing me to learn how to read them.)
The fact that we (usually) have, at the touch of our thumb, access to intricate maps of the whole world, has sort of robbed us of actual map reading, hasn’t it? We don’t have to puzzle out which streets to turn onto anymore, Siri will just tell us. It’s easy for me to mirror that attitude elsewhere in life, too. Turn here, say that, wear this. Isn’t it sad that sometimes I have to remind myself to think? Pay attention. Look around you.
All this to say that travelling is not always what it seems. Sometimes you take a weekend excursion to New York City and book a Broadway ticket for the wrong day. OOOOPS. Occasionally you walk the wrong direction for 5 blocks (what counts is that I eventually figured it out, okay). Possibly the trip might entail a sketchy cab driver, a heck of a head cold, a rather uncomfortable couch to sleep on, and getting soaked in freezing cold rain that will ruin most of the things in your backpack, including the book your friend lent you. (Still so sorry, Jacob.)
Also though, you might get to make friends with a German law student at the Top of the Rock. Maybe you will talk for an hour or two while you stare at the Empire State Building. You could brush shoulders with the nicest grounds manager in Central Park, who may help you find the Met and then ask you a hundred questions about Canada. When you’re on the red steps in Times Square, an Argentine man might ask you to take his photo, and then you can speak to him through Google translate about the Andes. Then, of course, ask him to return the favour (see photo below).
So I didn’t see Broadway, but I did get to marvel/nerd out over an eighth century concordance of the Gospels, remains from the city of Sardis (thank you, hermeneutics), and a sarcophagus of a first century believer. I saw a lot of art created by brilliant artists who are now dead. I bought Neapolitan style pizza from a food truck and cried for the thousands of lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I successfully navigated the subway without google maps, which I am freaking proud of.
Anyway, I am a self-proclaimed total weirdo. I make a lot of wrong turns and I make some poor decisions, but shoot do I ever love this world God has given us to explore. Every place I go becomes a little part of me. What I learned there about God and/or about myself becomes a part of who I am.
In my mind, New York City is no longer just a place for lots of movies to be filmed. Its filled with people, full to overflowing with beautiful image bearers. It’s oddly quieter than Chicago, but a lot dirtier. It feels like a true fusion of past and present. It’s less chaotic than I thought it would be, and pedestrians literally rule the city. Like all cities, it smells like mouth watering food in one instant and straight sewage in the next. It’s massive and looks beautiful in fall.
So you see, travelling is convoluted. It’s weird, bright, fresh, loud, exhilarating, and confusing. You should go somewhere and see what you can learn.
I leave you with Central Park in fall, which is stunning.