We have a rich history of traveling in our family. Karen grew up as a missionary kid in Venezuela and Colombia. Her parents’ work took them to most of the countries in South America during that time, and later to Russia, Latvia, and Canada. I grew up in a Navy family, moving up and down the east coast to different bases from which my father sailed to exotic ports all over Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Both of our families have impressive collections of 35mm slides documenting those travels.
Karen and I began our journey together with seven years in Germany, courtesy of the U.S.Army, the results of which were a cuckoo clock and two additions to the family. Well, four if you count the cats. We traveled through most of Europe during those years, hauling the boys along on trips to Italy and Belgium and the Netherlands. When we left the army, my first job was in California, near Los Angeles, which was almost like living in another country. :-) Philip was our souvenir from that part of our trek.
We like to travel.
When my job finally stabilized in Huntsville, we started traveling for different reasons. Our first international trip from the states came in 2001, when the boarding school that Karen had attended in Rubio, Venezuela decided to close. An invitation was sent out for all former students and faculty to bring their families and join the last class for their graduation. It was an amazing trip for a lot of reasons, but for me the greatest reward was the glimpse it gave me into Karen’s past. There is much about the person she is today that was formed during those years, and seeing it all first-hand was a revelation.
Traveling changes your perspective on a lot of things.
I remember coming back from that trip after two weeks and being stunned by the contrast. The drive home from the airport in Nashville felt like we had landed in Disney World. The highways were newly paved and the medians were freshly mowed. Everything was new and shiny. Though we had only been gone a couple of weeks, I was seeing the U.S. through the eyes of someone who was used to the conditions in Venezuela. We were home, but there was something about it that felt…strange.
In a way, that experience was a gift.
The strangeness wore off pretty quickly and we settled back into our typical, middle-class American lives, but something subtle had changed. It was as if we had been given a peek behind the curtain, or chosen the red pill and had our eyes opened.
We started to notice things.
Like the fact that there were people living in poverty in our own town. People. Not just statistics, but real people.
We became aware of the “invisible” people that populated our lives…the cashiers and tellers, the gas station attendants, the waitresses. All the folks who had previously slipped through our lives as part of the background noise suddenly had our attention. Not because anything about them had changed, but because it suddenly dawned on us that they were PEOPLE.
It’s amazing how that little shift in perspective can change things. In many ways, it has changed our whole lives.
Sometimes now, when we sit down to eat a restaurant, we tell our waitress that we were about to pray over our meal and we ask if there is anything we can pray for her. It’s amazing the transformation that occurs. A normally impersonal encounter becomes a meaningful conversation between people.
Once when a Wal-Mart cashier seemed particularly down, Karen asked if everything was OK. She paused for a second, then shared that her husband was sick and in need of surgery. The next time Karen saw her she asked how the husband was doing. The lady was truly touched.
Through the years, each of our boys has also found opportunities to be a friend to people who were “invisible” or “unacceptable”. Like choosing to dance with the girl who has Down’s syndrome at the middle school dance. Or buying lunch for the guy with the sign on the exit ramp. Or being a hero to a kid getting picked on in gym class.
They chose to look beyond the labels and see the people.
Sometimes labels are scary, like “HIV/AIDs – infected”. There are children who bear that label all over the world. They didn’t do anything to earn the label; it was bestowed on them at birth. But each one of them is a person, with hopes, and dreams, and maybe even a future.
Some are labeled “Impoverished” or “Orphan”. Others are “Mentally or Physically Challenged”. Many are born in countries that are hostile to the United States.
Take a look at the kids at the link below. They’re people, just like you and me. They may have labels that describe their situations, but they’re just kids who need a little help.
Try a change of perspective. Give one of them a new label…
originally published 3/1/12| next post When Things Suddenly Go Slow-Motion