I missed raw vegetables—the huge salads I normally eat for lunch filled with chopped kale and carrots and whatever else I find in the refrigerator. I missed my cats and my computer, my shelves filled with books, having more than three changes of clothes. I missed speaking fluently, not in stuttered, ridiculously simplistic Italian or badly pronounced French. I missed feeling competent in my world—navigating successfully, seeing people I know on a regular basis, responding to questions without having to think through verb agreements.
I love to travel in part because it brings me immediately out of my comfort zone. The small world I usually inhabit suddenly expands into unknown streets, unknown foods and smells, unknown customs and expectations. It’s humbling to be a traveler, to be one of hundreds of ordinary people waiting to board an airplane or buy museum tickets, one of thousands revolving through a hotel in any given season. It’s humbling not so speak a language fluently, not to be able to read signs or maps or grocery store items quickly and easily. It’s humbling to have to fully trust complete strangers for my safety, to be laughed at for making mistakes, to know that my unfamiliarity with a landscape makes me an easy target.
And that humbling is a very good thing, a very good reminder not to take myself so seriously, not to limit my own thinking, not to get so caught up in petty debates. No one we spoke with in Italy, for example, had heard of the philosophers with whom Zac works, or the poets I most admire. We found common ground here and there with music, but my family was shocked that we didn’t know any contemporary Italian musicians outside of opera stars like Pavarotti. And political issues—forget it. People asked us about Romney on more than one occasion, but most of our most pressing political debates and important political figures didn’t overlap at all.
The world is enormous, traveling reminds me, full of 7 billion other people living lives mostly unlike my own—rich, important, complicated lives full of successes and sorrows and debates and important figures I will never know. As I return to my very small town, to my small circle of friends, my small writing community, my small job, I’m hoping to remember the humility I felt these last three weeks, the possibility I felt in knowing myself and my worries as really quite small, really quite insignificant. The possibility I felt in all that I don’t know, in being nothing more than one of the masses.