Last night while I was having dinner in the square here in Strasbourg, France, the skies opened up and the rain poured down. There was thunder and chain lightning. In every restaurant and bar that lined the square the people all scrambled for the shelter of the awnings. As conditions worsened with high winds they finally retreated indoors. I had finished my meal early, because I still eat on a US schedule (Dinner should be well on its way through your guts by 8pm, I believe). I sipped my Alsatian wine deep in the protection of the awning, in no hurry to retreat. I watched the waters pour on the cobblestones of the square, filling the deep furrows between each hand quarried stone and thought about back home. Back home… well back home there is no thunder and no lightning. And for that matter no public squares of cobblestones crowded with people out to eat on a Wednesday night. I watched the rains fall on this part of the world and I imagined the roundness of the globe and my mind’s eye could see the people back home as they prepared for lunch.
How often do you picture the globe and your place on it? How often do you search with your mind to imagine the coldest place and the hottest place at this instant somewhere on the surface of the Earth? Is someone eating a dog? A snail? In the deep ocean is a whale eating a squid? I don’t think this way very often. It is the perspective of a traveller with their self image firmly planted in the world they left behind but their feet firmly planted someplace else.
Maybe if I were doing this trip right I wouldn’t even have this thought. I don’t have a return ticket after all. If anything, back home is where I am going to, not where I am coming from. But I haven’t been where I am going yet so I can’t imagine that part of the world the way I can recall life in NW Washington state. But perhaps I will adjust better if I imagine, pretend, that what is in front of me is all I have ever known? Pretend the world is not round but instead flat, and it doesn’t exist where I cannot see?
As I am in Strasbourg right now that is an intoxicating thought. All around me are the good things in life, people well cared for, people who are safe with a bright future ahead. I’d no longer feel the burden of current events… Like the US kidnapping and abusing the children of asylum seekers at its southern border… I’d be innocent of that crime.
But I remember home all too well. I can’t escape our mistakes that easily. The vision of the world as a globe, with everyone living their lives out at once in the various places, that vision brings you closer to all of the things going wrong in the world. As the rain fell in the square and the world to me seemed a beautiful place, also at that moment my friends were headed to lunch back in Washington, and also too at that moment a terrified child had just finished their lunch at a former Wal-Mart converted into a privately owned border control prison.
If you were suddenly in the rift valley of Africa you’d be hot. If you were suddenly outside of McMurdo station in Antarctica you’d be cold. And if you were suddenly paperless at our southern border… I’m glad I’m in Strasbourg and feel both lucky and guilty about it.