Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wandering Mystic Meditation From Travel University

Before long, my daughter will be able to buy a drink in a bar with her real driver's license. (Yes Lauren, I did know about that other one.) During her teenage years, Lauren and I would reminisce over cups of coffee every April 16th. We marked another year by talking about our past trips and future travel dreams. Flipping through our photos, Lauren would laugh at her consistently inconsistent hairstyles, while I laughed off my consistently receding hairline.

My youthful adventures could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. Lauren was on her third passport by age ten. I dragged her everywhere - the breathtaking view from atop the Eiffel tower and the claustrophobic squeeze of tunnels in the Egyptian pyramids. We hopped into a Fallucca to cruise along the Nile. I held onto her shirt in Ireland, so she could kiss the Blarney Stone upside down. 

She walked the beaches of Normandy as a young woman and stuck a crayon-written prayer into the cracks of the Wailing Wall as a little girl. I tried to instill an appreciation for such youthful experiences, but it might have been easier to teach my cat calculus. “One day…” I often muttered to myself. “One day, I hope she gets it.” That one day finally arrived last week.  

Studying full-time at university leaves little opportunity for texting, at least from daughter to dad. So, it was a surprise when she bombarded my phone with a message nearly the length of a Stephen King novel. 1 of my art profs has us studying museums - NYC's Gugg & Paris' Louvre & dOrsay I read on, happy she was sharing with me, but also happy that texting was not yet a major at her university. Like a Kerouac scroll, she continued without punctuation. “You showed me the art in those buildings in those cities!”

It wasn’t the project that had her so intoxicatingly excited. It was what scientists throughout the centuries have called the “Ah Ha!” moment. “Ah Ha!” In the middle of her iPhone novella, Lauren was saying, “I got it!” She got that traveling had enriched her life in ways not previously noted. She now saw that being there meant something, that presence makes a difference.

Traveling has always been an evolving art form to me – creating new ways to find comfort in the uncomfortable or to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. While I was perfecting this craft, I rarely recognized the effects in my everyday life. I knew travel was transforming me, but I didn't grasp how or into what. John Lennon was right, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” 

After Lauren left for school, the plans were no longer our plans. The world of individuality opened its doors to her and she ran through them without looking back. We didn’t drift apart. We sailed past each another on hurricane-force winds. Her urge to take off trumped my need to hang on. We didn’t need proximity or phone conversations to argue. Our angry voices echoed across cities. Texts were sent in ALL CAPS. Calls went unanswered and eventually even the dialing stopped. 

Last April 16th, we drank coffee separately. I sent a text while scanning our photos. She responded in a pleasant but sterile way. The two of us haven’t traveled together in awhile. School and work keeps Lauren from long distance trips. At least, that’s what we tell each other. In truth, Lauren prefers me in tiny doses, enduring my company with an air of guarded tension. We’re no longer sailing past each other, but our boats are obviously moored in different ports. We’ve shared many adventures together, but no other journey was this long or this difficult.  

Wrapping up her text, Lauren ended with a compliment I didn’t expect, “I’m an art major now because of a world you opened up for me.” And there it was: my “Ah Ha!” moment, a travel dividend I could truly grasp. Traveling had done more than enrich us individually; it had brought us together all along. Crossing continents had connected me to other people and myself, but I now saw it had connected me to my daughter, plus she saw it too.

This April 16th, we’ll share coffee over breakfast and beer over dinner. She’ll thank me for a gift and I’ll thank her for the company. Before she leaves, we’ll hug and say, “I love you!” like we always do. We’ll turn and walk away, without knowing when we’ll see each other again. Our bridge may still be under construction, but we have the tools to build it and the adventurous spirits to someday cross it. Who knew the architectural plan for our bridge was being drafted in our travel documents?  It feels good to turn a new page in our lives, thanks in part to the old pages in our passports.

Dan Beckmann is a photographer, writer, and journalist who lives in Orlando Florida. He worked as a cameraman, producer, and editor with the Today Show at NBC News, traveling extensively throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Africa from their Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Bureaus. His work has been featured on the BBC, Sky, Reuters, Discovery Channel and Nat Geo, plus he contributes regular columns to the Orlando Sentinel.

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