Our World, Our Neighborhood
We recently traveled to Italy. As I scribbled furiously in my travel journal, I began to notice some similarities that our countries share. Although there are vast differences between our languages, topography, transportation and even the foods we eat – there are also many things we have in common. My husband and I aren’t exactly world travelers, but we have been blessed to travel to several countries for mission trips and leisure. With each trip I’ve noticed facets of culture that have counterparts in the good old USA. This time was no different.
I always face a bit of apprehension before traveling to someplace new. What if? Tucked away in the back of my mind are all of the reasons we shouldn’t go. What if something happens to us, and our family is left to pick up the pieces? What if one of us gets sick while we’re there, and we can’t access health care? The list goes on. This year we even went so far as to create a will – another topic for another day, but please don’t wait as long as we did. Fear of the unknown is always at the ready, but what incredible life adventures we would miss out on, if we allowed our fears to silence our desires to live life to the fullest.
Our son, Sam, had studied in Italy for a semester. During that time he asked us to start saving our money so we could go there with him one day. We followed through on our promise, and after four years our envelope finally had enough funds in it to make the trip. After months of planning and anticipation, our dream vacation became reality. We were disappointed that the entire family was unable to go along, but we truly felt it was now or never. And the next thing we knew, we were on a plane headed for Italy.
During our journey, we traveled on five airplanes, nineteen trains, several buses and water taxis. We had layovers in Portugal and Turkey; Sam and Molly returned home through Moscow. We saw countless landmarks and met people from all walks of life. We breathlessly took in views beyond imagination. We sampled authentic Italian foods and enjoyed the wares of the local artisans. At times we simply had to stand still and soak it all in; it was the stuff priceless memories are made of.
Throughout our trip I couldn’t help but notice some things that have likely counterparts in many countries. There are definite parallels between the United States and Italy. Here are a few worth mentioning.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed at the front desk of our Tuscan home for the week by a spunky Italian lady with a warm smile and emerging English. We were clearly in awe of our surroundings and shared with her our anticipation of the coming adventure. In an instant, with a wink and smile, she upgraded our unit to one that was much larger. We assumed that our positive attitudes and excitement caused her to be so generous.
Along the narrow streets of Florence were artists, many of them painting and selling their handiwork. Sam and Molly found the perfect picture; it would be just right if only the hair color matched their own. The artist agreed to paint one especially for them if we could come back later and pick it up. Arnie and I perused other kiosks in search of the perfect addition to our own walls. Our eyes were drawn to a uniquely striking painting of the bridge and town. As the artist wrapped our purchase, she excitedly explained how she tried to make the painting come to life by continuing the scenery onto the matting. She was clearly proud of her work.
Everywhere we looked throughout our trip, there were signs of God’s handiwork. Sunsets behind the Tuscan hills were molten gold. The night skies glowed with dazzling stars that shimmered in the crisp night air. The coastlines were adorned with jagged rocks and crags, and the water was a shade of blue that we could never quite capture with our cameras. Olive trees and grapevines festooned the hillsides, and foxes and other signs of wildlife were everywhere.
So how are we alike? I could sum it up like this:
- Kindness goes a long way in dealing with people from all walks of life. A smile needs no interpretation. Laughter sounds the same in any language. A handshake or hug conveys warmth and appreciation no matter where you are.
- God’s handiwork is everywhere. It is amazing to look up at the stars, or gaze into the heavens and realize that the whole earth is God’s canvas. His artistry is everywhere, whether you are visiting the alluring coastline of Italy, the rustic mountains of Tuscany, or twilight sunsets back home in the hills of Kentucky. There is undeniable splendor if you take the time to look around.
- Language barriers can be broken. Although it is a definite challenge to communicate when neither party speaks the same language, there are plenty of ways to gain information. Facial expressions, gestures, pictures and translation apps can all be integral means to help get a point across.
- Man’s artistry enriches our world. Whether enjoying a sampling of pottery, jewelry, painting , delicious meals, or musical interludes, our lives are much fuller when we share our gifts and talents with one another.
- We can learn from one another. No matter where we are in life, we have something worth passing along. Life is at its best when we spend it together. Whatever we are going through, there is always someone who has already traveled our path, with experiences to share and help ease the burden.
If you get the opportunity to travel, whether to another country or simply to another town in your area, I would encourage you to take it. You will learn to embrace the differences, appreciate the things you have in your own life, and discover just how much we really do have in common. We’re not so different, are we? The location changes, and the details vary, but the message is the same: this is our world, our neighborhood.