I just returned from a ten-day running trip in the Alps with my friend. Yes, it was incredible. Amazing. Beautiful. Surreal.
Yesterday, I spent several hours writing a blog post for Run the Alps, the company through which we worked to plan our self-guided tour. That post is full of description of the trails we ran and the towns we visited. It reads like a journalized sensory play-by-play of our days, one by one, including the number of miles we ran and the vertical feet we climbed. It was all about the physical.
I’m never only all about the physical. There’s more to me than that. There’s more to most people.
When I returned, a woman I love and respect asked me about the trip in a way that touched my heart and made me smile. She asked: “How did it impact you? How did it change you?”
I love these questions. Because of course it impacted me. And yes, it changed me too. Growth is, by nature, change. I love and seek growth. I want it. And one way I grow is through travel.
To answer her questions, I have reflected on what I thought about over there, while I was running. Here is where I found my answers, but, it turns out, not to the specific questions she asked. I took her questions and then asked my own.
What did I learn?
I’m sure I will continue to become aware of my Alpenlessons as time goes on, but here are a few that I can share with you now.
1) “Trails are all kin, and I am a friend of the family.”
I wrote this once in the essay I contributed to the book, “Tales from Another Mother Runner,” edited by my friends Dimity McDowell Davis and Sarah Bowen Shea. Running on those trails last week in Switzerland, Italy, and France, I felt this more than ever. There’s home and there’s Home. On mountain trails, no matter where they are, no matter how steep, no matter how technical, no matter how high, no matter how remote, I am Home. That sense of belonging and familiarity, even someplace I have never been before, is a remarkable discovery. It means that my happy place can be anywhere.
2) I live the life of my dreams.
I live the life of my dreams. There is no question about it. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have run where I ran, to visit the towns and people of the Alps. I am grateful for my friend, who was the catalyst in making the trip a reality and proved, once again, that we are finely tuned running partners. I am grateful to my husband for all his hard work and for gladly sending me off on this adventure. I am grateful for my mother-in-law for hosting our daughter at Camp Grandma while I was away. I am grateful for my daughter every minute of every day of my life. I am grateful for my strong, powerful body, that can move me over the trails that I love. And it doesn’t stop there. Over the miles and hours on the trail, my mind wanders. I learned that my gratitude wanders too.
3) I will forever be amazed by this world’s beauty.
Some beauty is not fleeting. It is is older than time and will long outlive its beholders. Some beauty cannot be described in frail human words, and maybe not even in limited human emotions. Some beauty has a song, a vibrating hum, unheard and unknown until the moment you open your heart in its presence. This is what I experienced.
4) To be a good human, it’s important to meet other, different humans.
It is easy to lead an insular life. It is true that socio-economic realities and where you are born and upbringing and societal expectations and countless other barriers can make travel, especially world travel, honestly challenging for some. For others, though, insulation is a choice. Travel is a great teacher, but there are other ways to experience if you cannot travel.
When you openly experience other people, other cultures, other mini-worlds within our greater world, you will come to understand that we are only part of the whole. You will gain perspective. Understanding. Empathy. Unity. We are all human. We are all in this together. And we are not so different. Coming to this realization may be a privilege, but perhaps it should be a responsibility.
If travel is not an option, and even if it is, read, listen, watch. Try.
5) In my life, there has never been a more important time to claim United States citizenship abroad.
We’ve all heard tales of the “good” Americans traveling abroad, proudly displaying Canadian flags on their packs. This has been a decades-enduring way to avoid our hosts’ prejudicial categorization of us into the ugly box of Boisterous and Demanding U.S. Tourist. I saw it all the time when I lived in France in the early 90s, and a few people suggested I go Canadian before this trip too.
But I have never felt a more poignant need to be an ambassador of the United States.
Donald Trump is not America. His administration is not America. And we, as a collective, are not him. We are not hatred, nor supremacy, nor discrimination, nor oppression. We are not short-sighted, nor ignorant, nor stubbornly rejective of facts. We are a nation of families and friends. We are a nation of dreamers and doers and lovers and sharers. We are a nation of diversity and hope. We are a nation of free speakers and liberty seekers and justice upholders. He cannot define us because he is not us, and we have every right and responsibility to show the world who we are instead.
I felt his shadow over there. I felt the dislike of our president and the trickle-down distrust of Americans. And it made me stand taller.
I am kind. I am generous. I am polite. I will smile and laugh with you. I will speak your language as best I can. I will respect your cultural etiquette. I will admire your country, your towns, your trails, and I will be better for having experienced them. I will do everything I can think of to show you that I am a citizen of the world that we share, together. And, once I have gained your trust and respect, as you have gained mine, I will tell you that I am American.
6) I choose experiences, not things.
I don’t want things. I couldn’t care less about things. I want experiences that make my heart sing and my mind whirl. That make me feel alive and strong and like the luckiest girl on earth. That remind me that hate and hurt and injustice are human constructs. That I will always, always remember. Like this adventure. Like this beautiful, extraordinary, incredible, miraculous adventure.
Photo Credit 1 and 3: Cathy Sonnenberg