Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We are more alike than different - why don't we know this?

There are countless benefits of traveling especially to countries other than your own.  I love the sights, the smells, the textures of travel.  I love recognizing cultural differences.  Most of all, however, I adore noticing how very much alike we are.  Here are just a handful of memories I collected during our trip that remind me more of our similarities than our differences:

  • On a sunny afternoon in Amsterdam, a young man lay fast asleep on the grass with his headphones on and his book open by his side.  Sunday is for relaxing .... work starts tomorrow! 
  • A mom walking with two preschoolers carrying "noodles" in her hand - those long styrofoam tubes that are so much fun in pools for both kids and adults.  Swim class, perhaps?
  • At lunch one day, DH dropped his pocket German/English dictionary on the ground and did not realize it.  A bashful young boy, at the urging of his father, came over to our table, picked up the book, and graciously handed it to my husband.  He gave us a slight bow of the head and smiled shyly.  All over the world, parents want their offspring to be polite and helpful.
  • Moments later, the same little boy became "big brother" and started arguing with his little sister!  I didn't understand the language, but I certainly knew by the tone of mom's voice that she was not happy ....  All over the world, parents struggle with teaching their children right from wrong.
  • Whenever the sun was shining, we noticed people pushing wheelchair-bound elders through the cities to experience the joy of being in the sunshine - and not confined.
  • The Internet is available everywhere.  We saw laptops in cafes, trains, coffee houses - the world is connected and information travels instantaneously.  Yes, Mr. Friedman, The World is Flat.
  • We in the US worry about driving and texting; in Amsterdam, the worry is biking and texting!  Now that takes lots of balance. 
  • Couples who have been together for awhile have a universal language.  One day, I noticed a man and a woman standing at an intersection each pointing in different directions.  He held a map and pointed towards one street, she was pointing vigorously in the opposite direction.  I have no idea what words they were exchanging, but I'd know that tone of voice anywhere!
  • Taking family photos at a wedding celebration - who cares where you are, what language you speak, or where you spoke your vows?  This is a time for smiles, hugs, and wishes for a lifetime of happiness.
  • A young boy chases pigeons around a fountain - quietly.  My first thought was that my preschool grandchildren would love to chase those pigeons, but they would not be quiet about it!
  • A little girl at a street market joyously running up to her "papa" and showing him the "chocolat" treat bought for her by momma.  Ah, chocolate ... truly a universal language.  Her face was radiant, her joy was boundless.  I reveled in this act of kindness by a caring mother.  Children take such exuberant joy in the simplest of gifts. 
  • A mother on one of our trains took her 2-year-old boy on a tour trying to keep him occupied and quiet.  He kept saying "nien, nien" over and over again.  Seems 2-year-olds also have a universal language - NO!
Somehow, on our march towards adulthood, we lose that childhood sense of wonder and joy and belief that the world is a wonderful place full of surprises and mysteries.  We often become suspicious and untrusting.  If I were queen of the world, I would give everyone a ticket to ride to far-off places to learn once again that the world truly is a wonderful place full of people wanting only to live their lives in peace.

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