The opening page of my novel bears the following quotation by Anatole France:
"Wandering re-establishes the original harmony that once existed between man and the universe."
Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "Wow. Sounds deep. But, um, what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
Let me start off by saying that I think we are officially the Southwest Airlines Generation. Maybe some of you still take family trips packed into your minivan like sardines, but since the end of World War II our culture has steadily been moving toward the expectation of increasingly foreign and exotic vacations. But since this is America, you really only have to fly for an hour or so, or drive for half a day to reach some of those foreign and exotic locations. If you think I'm kidding, then clearly you've never visted Cody Wyoming, San Francisco, Hurricane Utah or the Garden State of New Jersey! There are so many quirky, unexplainable strands of life and city culture that, weaved together, make up our country.
But whether you're traveling domestic or foreign, there is one single question that is relevant to all wanderers: What is the point of your trip?
Last weekend I spent a few days on the Oregon coast with some friends, and as I walked along the beach I couldn't help but wonder what the other beach combers were doing there. Seeking relaxation? Spending time with friends? Eating themselves sick? I happen to know that all of those objectives can be happily accomplished within the boundaries of my hometown. So why Oregon? Why have we become a nation of chronic travelers?
This is a question that I have thought and written about a great deal. I have lived in four countries, and in seven U.S. states. I have vacationed on four of the seven continents. Of course this is child's play compared to the passport history that some of my friends and family members have under their belt, but it's a start. I've seen a little something of the big, wide world, and no matter where I have lived, whether it be communist-style, poverty-stricken apartments in Russia or a townhouse in central London, I've sensed the question dangling above my head. What am I doing here? What am I supposed to "get" from this experience.
Now if you approach this question in terms of a deeper, spiritual yearning then the answer will look one way. But if you approach the question from a more pragmatic, touristy sense, then the answer will look quite different. The influence of Place and Setting on human lives is absolute. I don't think anyone would argue that setting doesn't make any difference, great or small. But in our casual, weekend encounters with locations that are outside our usual box, like the Oregon Coast let's say, what is the point?
Even as I pose these theoretical questions, please understand that I'm not waiting patiently in the wings to swoop in and feed you the answer. I'm still thinking about it. But I will say that I often wonder if I am changed, improved, cultured, or made stronger by my wanderings. Talking, seeing, eating and witnessing what is different has to leave a mark in the long run, doesn't it? To discover how other people, those Oregonian foreigners, live?
Maybe Anatole France was arguing that some fundamental, basic part of our being becomes whole as we wander and experience life. It isn't healthy to remain too structured, or stuck for too long in one gear. As you move out of your comfort zone and see and experience other places, you are better able to understand your own life and your own pursuits more objectively. Maybe you come to understand who you are, or at least witness the possibilities of who and what your life might become.
Does this make you feel like getting out of town, buying a Southwest plane ticket? If so, I heartily recommend the Oregon coast.