As the pandemic loosens its grip, it’s time to reengage with the world | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

As Gustave Flaubert noted, ‘Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world’

February 24, 2022 6:30 am

(c) bychykhin – View from the airport lounge to landing passenger aircraft and Car airfield maintenance at airport apron. Summer, Airplane travel concept.

I am celebrating my birthday this week. I figure since I am just a year shy of my semisesquicentennial, I can mark it for as long as I desire. Despite my being well into codgerhood, I am still asked what I want for my birthday. Usually my answer for the last several years has been “Not a thing” because I have more now than I could ever need or want.

Lloyd E. Sheaffer (Capital-Star file)

This year, though, my response is different. This year I want—no, I need—to travel somewhere. Not necessarily to any particular place, just . . . . somewhere.

One perquisite of retirement is the time to journey to new places and new cultures. My wife and I have had the honor of trekking to more than twenty foreign countries during our post-work years.

What glorious adventures they have been.

From zip lining from the top of the Great Wall of China to standing in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon by Shakespeare’s grave on his birth/death day to venturing eight stories down into ancient underground cities in Cappadocia, Turkey, our lives have been enriched beyond belief. Our travels have not only expanded our view of the world, but also they have humbled us.

As Gustave Flaubert noted, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

During the last two years, though, the COVID bug has pretty much squashed our travel bug. Most of our excursions since March, 2020, have been via the dozens (and dozens and dozens) of books we have devoured; the pages we’ve consumed, while pleasant, have not been fully satisfying to us devoted travelers. We long for another type of book of the genre identified by St. Augustine: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

If you think you’re living in a divided America, it’s nothing new | Janice Ellis

We are ready for another page.

Gratification and enlightenment are not the only reasons I want to venture across and into the world again. Travel itself has distinctive health benefits. The article “Top 7 Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Travelling Abroad” summarizes the findings of numerous medical studies that explore the salubrious merits of globetrotting:

  • Reduces stress
  • Enhances happiness and satisfaction
  • Boosts immune system
  • Reduces risk of heart attacks
  • Improves your creativity
  • Lowers risk of depression
  • Helps you live longer

As much as it strengthens one’s physical health, touring the nation or the world offers great personal, social, and cultural growth. Travel writer Maggie Teneva posits these and other benefits derived from exploring the world outside our own cocoons:

  • Achieve peace of mind
  • Improve your communication skills
  • Broaden your horizons
  • Boost your confidence
  • Get real-life education
  • Understand yourself

I suggest that at this time more than ever, people should be moving from off their own parochial porches and set out to explore unfamiliar provinces. In the last several years xenophobic, fear-mongering, narrow-minded politicians; un-Jesus like “Christian” leaders; and “America—love-it-or-leave-it—First” Us-vs Them cable pundits have sewn seeds of mistrust, distrust, and racial consternation about those whose lives are different from theirs.

Meeting people of different backgrounds and spending time with those whose daily lives vary from our own can, except for the most reactionary and bigoted folks, show that we share more commonalities than disparities.

Samuel Clemens hit the proverbial nail on the head when he wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

He could be writing about today’s divided nation.

Yes, I know that the two-year-old pandemic with its sundry concomitant vaccination rules; the self-centered, anti-masker, plane passengers; and the emerging lack of esteem around the globe for the United States have engendered difficulties for American travelers. However, after these two years of isolation, quarantine, and separation from others, it is time to re-engage with our nation and the world.

I want to visit my friend in Spain whom I have not seen for nearly seven years. I want to see the Great Barrier Reef before the changing climate kills it completely.

I want to go to Buenos Aires to see if it does truly “take two to Tango.” I want to revisit the grandeur of Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon at least one more time. I want to take our kids and grandkids on further quests of discovery and delight throughout our wonderful world.

Despite its being incorrectly attributed to Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, this anonymous observation on travel suits me fine: “Actually, the best gift you could have given [him] was a lifetime of adventures.”

That’s what I want for my birthday.

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Stars Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Lloyd E. Sheaffer
Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].