I always surprise myself when I travel to a new country, specifically because I am forced to do things I didn’t even really think I was capable of (i.e. asking if the next train to Venice was downstairs at station 10, departing at 9:20—in pretty much all Italian with occasional hand signals—Right? I was impressed at myself too! Ha) Maneuvering my way through a train station in Italy seemed simple enough...until I remembered that I’m not fluent in Italian, therefore, boarding the correct train at the correct time was a tad more challenging than I originally thought. The few weeks I spent studying Italian a couple months back came in more handy than I could’ve ever imagined. The brain is a fascinating thing—it’s kicked into survival-memory mode, and I have been able to order myself breakfast, ask for the time, and ask for directions with the minimal vocabulary words that are floating in my brain somewhere. Each time I walk away whispering “nice, Kat…”
I’ve never realized the extent of our “auto-pilot-ness” back at home. You don’t have to do much thinking or figuring things out when you’re in a familiar environment, heck, even amidst people who speak the same language. It’s as simple as reading and following directions and asking a question without thinking much about the words you should use. I’m wracking my brain at every turn here—reading every word as carefully as if it were a jigsaw puzzle I needed to figure out. I’m deciphering everything I hear, hoping I can translate from Italian to Spanish to English in a matter of milliseconds. I’m studying every local’s behavior, trying to emulate the way they do culture—trying to look, well, natural. It’s hard to look natural when you’re a fish out of water.
That’s exactly how I felt this morning upon my arrival to my first train station. My frantic, out-of-breath look was quite obvious. One man noticed and yelled out to me from the other side of the train track, “Bologna centrale?” Ah, I understood that—he was asking if I was headed to the main train station. “Si!” I called out as the train was approaching, on the opposite side of where I was supposed to be. As he pointed to the train across the track, I realized it was too late. “Welp,” I thought, “there goes my first missed train.” I had an hour before the next one came by so I decided to take a stroll, get a little lost. Like Ray Bradbury once said, “Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”
Boy, I can’t help but think how right Ray is. Feeling “lost”, or just being in an unfamiliar environment, is a good place to be. I’ve never minded feeling like a fish out of water. I think I work well this way—my mind is constantly being stimulated and all my senses are hypersensitive. This is especially true when I’m alone—when I don’t have a physical person to communicate with, I’m forced to think more spiritually—which is always best.
The more I travel, the more advices about life I pick up. As I embark on a brand new adventure, I’m reminded of a few things I’ve learned along the way:
For one, lose yourself. Let the rush of a new city and foreign language take over. Shock your senses. Notice every person, every color, every smell, every sound, every sensation. Take every stimulus captive. Don’t try to organize them in your mind—let them overwhelm you.
Once you’ve soaked it all in, and you feel like you’ve reached the stimulus/sensation tipping point, regurgitate it all back to God—in detail, like a child over-excitedly sharing his first Disney World encounter with his daddy. Tell Him what you saw, what you experienced—the sounds, the lights, the colors, the people, the emotions. Write it down or say it out loud—doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you allow the thoughts to become tangible.
Let God take you deeper as you pour yourself out. Let the recent memory of a missed train become a necessary learning experience; let a quick exchange with a stranger become an important life lesson.
Allow yourself to feel ridiculously human...in every sense of the word. And most importantly, thank Him. Oh, dear saint, don’t forget to thank Him.