I received the best delivery today—my renewed passport!
Weeks ago, I completed and sent a long and tedious application along with photos and supporting documentation to what felt like a black hole. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you upon approval” was ultimately the response I received from the government’s passport processing center. I’m certainly aware that there aren’t many of us traveling too many places requiring a passport as of late, but for a girl who has filled four passports in 27 years (83 countries visited!), not having a ticket to the world in hand felt taxing. I couldn’t go anywhere internationally if I’d wanted to.
My passports are more than a simple check mark next to each country I’ve traveled to. In a sense, they are my version of a diary telling the story of my life. They also tell stories of lives around the globe that I’ve been fortunate to observe. They tell stories of learning and understanding, experiencing new cultures and connection. Some pages taught me that I need very few “things” in life. Rather, they showed me that I need to gain experiences and to create relationships from them. And countless pages proved how little I am in this world.
Transcending Language and Culture
When I reminisce about my travels, those that stand out as the most meaningful and memorable without a doubt are the ones that involved connecting with people. A favorite that I recall was not in an exotic land at all but on an airplane. Years ago, on a flight to the Middle East to meet my husband, my fellow passengers were growing tired and antsy on the long and very full flight. While waiting outside the lavatory, a Pakistani woman, traveling alone with her three-year-old and infant waited with me. Her daughter was having a meltdown, and the baby would not stop crying. The woman looked at me as if she had given up and wanted to cry herself. As we caught each other’s eye in that moment, the verbal language barrier between us did not exist. I gestured to take her infant while she took care of her daughter. It did not matter where either of us were from or what we believed politically or religiously. We were simply two women who understood each other perfectly. It was in that moment that I learned how similar we are with our friends across the globe.
There is something special about children. They have a way of opening doors and hearts that adults cannot open on their own. A favorite story, in both mine and my daughters’ passports, tells of the time when we visited a school in South Africa. Thy were able to spend the day teaching the children songs, singing and dancing together. They played kickball together, served lunch and shared trinkets from America that they were wearing or had brought with them. What I witnessed and learned this particular day was that there was no hesitation between these children from America and Africa. They were simply children laughing and playing together, one and the same.
The Kindness of Strangers
Some stamps represent moments when I learned to rely on and accept help from people who were strangers to me. My ancestors are from the Piedmont Valley in Northern Italy. In celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my mom and dad decided to go to Italy for the first time. Three days into their trip, I would find my mother lying in a hospital bed, having had a heart attack in a small town near Tuscany. My dad, who has traveled very little internationally, was alone and was only allowed to see my mom two hours each day. I determined that I would fly to Italy the next morning to be with and help him. After three flights, two trains, and a taxi ride, I found my dad at a small inn called Il Cascinale.
Unlike Italian cities I previously traveled to, English was not heard as frequently, and there were no fancy hotels or restaurants. We learned that the hospital my mother was in is one of the best hospitals in the region for cardiology and heart surgery, and Europeans travel here seeking the best care. With few options for lodging, the Italian woman who owned the inn provided rooms for families of patients who would be in the hospital long term. Before my arrival, she took my distraught father in, not asking for ID or a credit card as guaranteed payment. He was alone and full of worry for my mom, and this kind woman made certain that he had food and necessities to put him at ease. She showed him how to get the hospital and contact them to receive updates. (Did I mention that this was all done via Google Translate?) Twenty-one days later, we were cleared to bring my mom home. We checked out of the inn that day owing a mere $1,500. I remain in awe of this woman’s kindness and generosity to complete strangers, and I remain in gratitude for an experience that allowed a daughter her turn to guide and care for her dad.
I could write volumes about travel experiences. What excites me most are stories of those still to come—experiences that will soon take space on the now-blank passport pages. My empty passport represents connection and unity, understanding and appreciation for each other. Above all, it represents hope. I believe as we travel again, we will begin to heal our world.
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