The Eternal Tourist

My parents weren’t hippies exactly, but I always thought that the social upheaval of the sixties was at least part of the wanderlust that infects both of them to this day. Intensely curious about cultures and socially conscious, my parents began roaming the world almost as soon as they said, “I do.” My dad finished his medical studies in Montreal. Later, the army would move them south to Texas, and while my dad served out his tour there, they became frequent visitors to Mexico and the surrounding states. Their curiosity took them on shoestring holidays to Europe and research-based stints as expats to Peru, and neither of them seemed to think parenthood was a good reason to slow down.

Riding in baby-backpacks and cars that would be condemned by modern child services agencies, we traveled across the country and out of it. We drove from the Eastern Seaboard to Central America. As we got older we started to fly to visit family in Europe. When we moved from the East Coast to the Midwest, my parents explored the heartland in earnest.

With all of that traveling and moving, it was inevitable that my sister and I would become infected with that same wanderlust that still takes my parents to the other side of the globe. I have fed the infection with multiple moves and travels of my own. And, while I am always eternally grateful to my parents for this affliction (I hope to pass it on to my kids someday) and these experiences, I think there was an unintended side effect.

When we moved to Peru, we knew we were visitors. Even when we learned the language, we spoke as foreigners and we were tourists as often as my Dad’s work schedule permitted. When we came home to the states the second time, though, I still felt a little like a visitor. We moved to the Midwest, and I felt even more like a visitor. We continued to travel, and I found I was happy visiting and observing and absorbing.

With one or two exceptions, I have loved most of the places we and I have visited and lived in, but looking back I realize I have spent most of my life feeling like a visitor. Even now, comfortably ensconced in the mountains of Vermont, I still wonder if we’ll be here for the long haul. I wonder what it would be like to live in Vancouver or Iceland or Italy – and if we will find out. There is always a sense of not completely belonging. For a long time, I lived as a witness, and that sense used to make me wonder if writers (as I wanted to be even then) or artists were supposed to be witnesses rather than full participants.

This question bothered me for years. After all, some of the greatest writers have been intense participants in the game of life.  One of my favorite exchanges in any movie was between Private Epstein and Jerome in Neil Simon’s Biloxi blues touches on this, and I think Simon was speaking to all artists when Private Epstein tells Jerome, “You have to take sides. You have to fight the good fight… Any fight. Until you do, you’ll never be a writer.”  It was a commentary that nagged at me for a while.

That was before the Big Guy came into my life.  His presence fed and nourished my wanderlust along with my heart, but I knew that, deep-down, I was still just a visitor in the places we lived. I was still an observer.

Then Thing1 came into our life, etching our family circle in stone. Thing1 was born on the road (we were living in Germany at the time), and at the time the Big Guy and I were long-term visitors together. But, thrown together on the endless adventure of parenthood, neither of us could remain casual observers – whether or not we would have wanted to be.

With the Big Guy’s help, Thing1 (and later Thing2) yanked me off the sidelines of life. I still wonder if I’ll ever belong to a place, but now I belong to a group of our own making.  Over the years it’s pull has grown stronger than any sense of place I’ve had, and because of it, I’m finding that Private Epstein was right. Fighting the good fight of growing our family – regardless of the theatre – has opened the door to becoming a real writer.

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