You Can’t See It All

I had plans for Glendive, Montana. It was half way between Billings and Bismarck, North Dakota, and the perfect place to break the drive. I was looking forward to a short hike in the badlands geology of the area, and to seeing how the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum was able to explain its exhibits “in the context of Biblical history.”

Unplanned roadside stop, North Dakota

But I didn’t even notice the exit as I drove by. I’d picked up a food-borne illness the previous night, and was only concerned with how far I could get before I had to stop to throw up again. The answer was, not far. Instead of getting to see Minneapolis with a friend, I spent my extra day holed up in a hotel room off the Interstate in Bismarck.

That’s how it goes when you’re travelling. Instead of what I planned, I became an expert on Montana and North Dakota rest stops. (The ND ones are much fancier, probably related to the oil wells I saw in the fields. But the Montana restrooms are immaculately clean, and believe me, I was looking at them very closely.)

With a bit of coaching, he made it to the top. Bismarck hotel pool.

If my plans hadn’t changed, I might not have had breakfast with an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. I wouldn’t have had time to have a long conversation with the barista in the nearly empty mall nearby, about travel and particularly Scotland. I wouldn’t have gone to the hotel pool and made it to the top of the climbing wall, inspiring a group of ten year olds to get off the floaties and give it a try.

The world is a big and complex place. You can live in an area for years and not see everything, so why do we think we can do it when we travel? Yet too often we rush from place to place, only pausing long enough to get that perfect picture before we are off again. It reminds of the “passports” children get at an attraction, and how they then run between stations, observing nothing, obsessed with getting all the stamps.

Looking towards the nearest village, Barbarino Val D’Elsa

I remember the discipline it took to not go to Rome when we were in Italy for two weeks. It was only a two hour train ride away. We could have done it in a day. But how much would we have seen? And we would have missed cooking dinner and having wine on the terrace while the teenagers swam in the pool at our villa. We likely wouldn’t have accidentally been in a parade in Sienna, nor had time in our little village to watch, with dozens of locals, the epic card game the old men were playing. But I would probably have had a picture of surly teens by Trevi fountain.

It occurs to me that we can be the same way with relationships. We try to cover as much ground as possible, moving on when things are not perfect. Yet we sometimes don’t take the time to settle in, to see what is under the surface. And in our restless seeking, we don’t attract the very thing we are looking for, the deep and honest sense of connection with others.

So even though I am covering a lot of ground this year, sometimes the brave part of travelling is slowing down.

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