Monday, March 07, 2005

Forty-eight hours and counting...

The countdown is on. The packing has begun. Well, I’ve packed the kids’ stuff anyway. Daniel couldn’t care less about what he wears, so I pick out shirts, socks, and underwear, and roll them together into little wraps. He can pull one pack out each morning, and his whole outfit is set. Kristiana picked out her own clothes, but I make the same rolls with her clothes. Each of them will carry three pairs of pants to go with the six changes of shirts, and they are set! Everybody pulls behind a rolling bag, has a small backpack, and nothing gets checked in. We will be gone for twelve days, so we pack six changes of clothes and do laundry in the middle of our stay. I owe this method of packing to Rick Steves, whose travel tips and advice have changed the way I travel. He is THE ONLY SOURCE of travel guides and ideas for me when I do any European travel.

I tend to wait until the morning of my departure to pack my own clothes. For those of you who haven’t seen me of late, I have a new addiction: skirts. I wear a skirt nearly every day. In the past eight months, I have worn pants less than a dozen times. Many of the people I have met in these past few months look at me askance and make a comment of some sort when they see me in pants. It’s not a religious thing. It’s not even a modesty thing, although most of my skirts are pretty long. It’s just that I have found skirts to be infinitely more comfortable than pants. No worries about puddles on public bathroom floors. No worries about being hot and bunched up on hot days. No worries about being underdressed in any situation. Plus I have a friend who is an awesome seamstress who has made me a dozen or so skirts in the last year – for free. I wrote about her in an earlier blog: her son is the one I visited in prison. I have done lots of Spanish to English translation on his behalf. She pays me in skirts. Nice deal. Anyway, when I travel, I wait and pack my skirts and tops on the day that we leave. I love that feeling of packing my things because if I’m rolling up my clothes, then the day of my departure has arrived.

Back before my first trip to Italy in the fall of 2001 – less than one month after September 11th – I discovered a book titled, The Way of The Traveler, by Joseph Dispenza. One of the things I love most about this fantastic little book is the author’s careful articulation of his vision of travel: “Every time we leave home and go to another place, we open up the possibility of having something wonderful happen to us. When we move out of the familiar here and now, we set in motion a series of events that, taken together, bring about changes at the very root of our being.” I look forward to seeing and experiencing the ways that this trip will change the very root of our family. Twelve days on the road in unfamiliar territory, trying desperately to learn another language on the fly, figuring out what’s good to eat and what is best to bypass, driving on the other side of the roads, catching up with old friends, perhaps making new ones – all of this and so much more will surely give us all a lot to journal about.

He breaks down every trip into five parts: the call of the road, preparation, the encounter (at the destination), the homecoming, and recounting the tale. Each step of the process involves careful thought, preparation, and most of all, a mindfulness that is often missed in the rush of the trip. Be aware. Be careful. Be alert. Soak in the details of each stage of the journey, from the choice of the destination, to the choosing of mementos, to the photo sorting at journey’s end. I have benefited enormously from this book, and every trip I have taken since that Italian sojourn three and a half years ago has been enhanced by the principles gleaned from Dispenza’s book. I could write volumes about the ways in which my entire life journey has been altered by the reading of this book and the application of its suggestions. Perhaps someday I will...

This morning I introduced my children to one of the most important packing tips Dispenza recommends. Along with our shirts, jeans, skirts, and socks, we must be sure to slip in our spiritual provisions, those intangible virtues and values that will make the road rise up to meet us in meaningful ways. We spent time together this morning making a list of the qualities each of us will need to make the most of this journey. Sure, we will carry English pounds, our passports, credit cards, an itinerary, lotion, deodorant, and lots of vitamins. But this morning the children made lists in their journals of the other things they need to carry; their lists included patience, a sense of adventure, kindness, laughter, and gentleness. I was impressed with how well they articulated their spiritual needs for this undertaking. On my list, I included a willingness to be a passenger and not the driver on this trip, humility, grace, compassion, and love. I know I will need them all. This trip will be quite different from my annual solo jaunts; this is taking my mothering and teaching and wifely duties on the road. I will need every ounce of quietness of spirit, flexibility, and openness to new food that I can muster.

To those who have sent tips and suggestions for England, many thanks. To those who haven’t had a chance yet, please drop me a line soon. I covet your insights. Time is short; forty-seven hours from right now, we will be on board, somewhere out over the Atlantic Ocean making our way to the land from which this nation declared its independence a little over 225 years ago. I can’t wait.


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