Austin, Texas. Mid-November. Like much of the country, the temperature hovered around freezing. Within a span of two hours I received the following responses to my similarly posed question:                     

                             “How are you doing/how’s it going today?”

“This is ridiculous, do you know how cold it was when I woke up this morning? I did not move here for this. This is my definition of miserable.”

“Good to see you again Ma’am. I got no complaints, happy to be here one more day, feeling blessed. How are you doin’ this evening?”

Same question. Two different responses. One from a well-paid, highly educated professional and the other from an underpaid, employed homeless person.

                                                   Perspective.

I write and allude to it often. It seems illusive at times, wiggly almost…it comes, it goes as soon as you have it, it will duck and hide and (if we’re lucky) resurface again. Those who you’d think would have it don’t and those who you wouldn’t think have it do. Sometimes perspective is skewed to the point of sadness and sometimes it’s skewed to the point of humorous. Over and over, time and again, I find myself surprised at those who have it and those who don’t. I’ve certainly experienced a total lack of perspective: dumbfounded, hurt, and confused at someone or something, my point of reference skewed and my perspective upside down, inside out or long gone…and yet it returns and offers me balance one again.

I love to travel because it gives me all new perspective. The quote from St. Augustine is one of my favorites and resonates with me:

             “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Travel affords one the opportunity to learn, gain and own new perspective. Perspective isn’t on page one, you have to go further than that. Traveling through a country that doesn’t have toilet paper, or water safe enough to brush your teeth, or dirty clothes that are laundered and ironed within hours of dropping them on the floor or sitting at a dinner where your fork is continuously replaced so you don’t have to eat with a dirty utensil…this gives a person perspective. Seeing people who survive on less than a dollar a day and people who routinely spend ten thousand dollars a day…all of this gives one the opportunity to grasp a little more perspective to move beyond page one.

Yet St. Augustine didn’t really define what travel actually means. Perhaps we don’t always need to travel outside our state, our country or continent to gain new perspective. Perhaps we need only travel outside our comfort zone.

              Our experiences don’t define who we are, our perspective does.

You’re cold, in your warm home with your loving family or on your way to your highly paid job and have to warm up your car for ten whole minutes so you don’t have to sit on a cold car seat which has seat-heaters anyway? And you complain about this?

You’re homeless and working a full-time job as a laborer for a construction company and it takes you 90 minutes to get to work because you rely on the bus service and because of the schedule it takes two full hours to get back “home” to the homeless shelter and you barely make it back in time to eat dinner before you are assigned a mat on the floor for the evening with less than 24 inches between you and the people on mats on either side of you? And you are grateful for this?

                                          Perspective.   It isn’t a guarantee.

You don’t have it just because you grow older and you don’t have it just because you are educated or financially solvent. If you don’t step outside your comfort zone it’s virtually impossible to obtain, which is what I believe St. Augustine meant. Perspective doesn’t come to you or knock on your door but it is there, attainable and waiting if you seek it out.

Travel expands the mind and broadens our outlook, it is the only way we can turn the pages in our book. Once you experience a different culture or a different way of life the mind doesn’t shrink back to where it was, rather it expands and makes room for perspective. To gain perspective we need to travel but travel isn’t limited to suitcases, passports and reservations. When we get outside our comfort zone, we move beyond page one. Sometimes travel equates to lands far, far away and sometimes it equates to simply listening to others and putting ourselves in their shoes even for just a moment. Perspective is there, you don’t need to travel around the world, simply travel into someone else’s.

And the two responses to my question? I was surprised at one, inspired by the other and grateful for both…they helped me turn another page.

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

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