Years ago when my sons, Paul and I had the rare opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela, we asked him for his advice about life. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Travel.” I have reflected on his wisdom many times since. Traveling to different places opens our eyes, invites us to question, and brings perspective home.
Travel doesn’t have to be far to inspire reflection over how we live, what we might do differently, and what we feel grateful for. Perspective is a prerequisite for gratitude.
Friends of ours invited us to visit them in New Zealand during part of their annual family vacation. For years we had dreamed of coming and finally, after Paul received his clean bill of health, we took the leap. Three airplanes and 24 hours later we had moved from below zero temperatures to balmy 70’s and 80’s at the same latitude on the opposite side of the earth.
On our second day in Auckland, Paul and I walked 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea. The views alone from the tops of volcano parks in both directions over the city–from sea to another shining sea – were worth the walk.
Each step advanced our toehold on perspective. The unhurriedness we felt in people here made me realize how often I feel rushed; and how hard I usually push myself.
The manager of the Airbnb we stayed at arrived with clean towels just as we realized we were a half hour late to meet new friends. I flew into a panic. She comforted, “Don’t worry dear. You look beautiful, and it’s a lovely day. It’s only a 10-minute walk to the restaurant, so enjoy it. They’ll understand.” This was such an unfamiliar response, yet it helped me remember that life is diminished by rushing.
We have since been on an island with the friends we came to visit. Time has slowed as we move with rhythms of tide and weather, mood and collective energy. We start each day playing the card game, Uno, with them and their children. The winner chooses the activities of the day.
When I won, a few days ago, it felt like my birthday a whole week early. I thought, how often do we give ourselves, or each other, the right to decide exactly what we want to do throughout a day?
We drove to the village for a “New Zealand Flat White” coffee; then spent time at the library before driving to a crescent moon beach where we swam and picked giant green lip mussels for supper. Fewer activities and simple pleasures stretch the hours of a day.
By the time you read this, if you are in the United States, it will be tomorrow in New Zealand. I have grown accustomed throughout most of my life to feeling behind, turning south when I meant to turn north, while panting to catch up and orient myself. But on vacation in this land “down-under” there is no wrong time or way. I’m learning the value of not hurrying, and of living each day as if it were my birthday or someone’s I loved. Thank you, Nelson Mandela for this gift to carry home.
What gifts of perspective have you gained from travel?
How do you slow time?