If you look up the word inspiration online, you'll find it is "the stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity." Travel is one way we are inspired. Whether we travel to another city, state or country, by leaving what we know and experiencing something new we tend to learn a lot about other people, places - and ourselves.
As you know, I'm a blogger for TravelingMom.com. Tonight's TravelingMom.com Twitter Party theme is about Inspirational Travel and it's sponsored by Sony's Showtime series, The Big C. One of the people who most inspired me to travel was my oldest sister, Marybeth. Like The Big C's main character, Cathy Jamison, Marybeth was diagnosed with melanoma but continued to live her life to its fullest for eight years until she died in November 2009. I believe it is because of her that I've done things like travel alone to Australia in my early 20s, climb a tropical island volcano, backpack the Appalachian Trail, and spend years in jobs that took me to different states and countries.
During their last visit with their aunt, my kids listened intently as she told them how she had taken the hard way up to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan just two years previously. The fact that she did this while she had cancer affected them deeply. "Wow," they said, "you're like...a travel adventurer!"
I thought about that exchange a lot as I traveled back and forth between Connecticut and Massachusetts during her final weeks. Those words summarized Marybeth's life so well and described the way I remembered her best - a travel adventurer. I decided that at her memorial service I would recollect about her life traveling around the world,
When I was in elementary school, my sister - who was 14 years older than me - left the U.S. to live in Libya, working as a teacher for Exxon. Now, to have a sister living in North Africa was quite unique in those days and it made quite an impression on me. During the 1970s most people I knew didn't even know where Libya was. But even though she was living on the other side of the planet those years we connected. My family would receive overseas packages from all over the world as my sister traveled. Most times they contained chocolates, linens and other assorted souvenirs from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. But they always included a doll for me from somewhere in the world. My doll collection meant everything to me. And they weren't just traditional dolls you'd find in gift shops. One time she sent a crude wooden figure carved by hand and preserved with cow dung!
Our summers always included a family gathering where my sister would give a slide show of her latest travels. She was an avid photographer, and would complement the images with tales about climbing glaciers in Europe, skiing the Alps, going on safari in East Africa, enjoying spring break on the island of Malta, and many other adventures.
My sister moved to Paris when I was in high school and I was lucky enough to visit her with our mother. We got to see the usual - The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Georges Pompidou Center. We saw a performance at the Opera House. But what I remember most was visiting her classroom and helping her teach for a day, playing basketball with the kids from the school, and eating the best vanilla ice cream I've ever tasted.
My sister eventually moved back to the states and settled in Massachusetts. She spent many years teaching social studies to middle school students and her years of travel allowed her to bring the real world directly into the classroom. Her stories made different cultures come alive much more than photos in textbooks. She would fight breast cancer and win, but eventually lost the battle to melanoma. But not without traveling her last years; first, to Japan as part of an academic team developing curriculum and second, to Lithuania with my mom, sister, Chris and me. We met relatives and discovered the land of our heritage - the trip of a lifetime - and spent a few days in Amsterdam.
After Marybeth died, I traveled with my kids back to Massachusetts to clean out her condo and gain some closure for them. We talked about my sister a lot and, at one point, my son experienced an aha moment:
"I get it," he said. "Since Aunt Marybeth's a ghost now, she can still travel to all those places she liked to go to, but she can just get there faster."
He was right. In my heart, I knew that as Marybeth lay in the hospice bed, she already saw our late father's hand outstretched toward her, waiting to take her on the next leg of her journey. There is no doubt in my mind she was already taking off on her greatest adventure yet. As I shared at her memorial service, my wish for her was if she chooses to revisit Mount Fuji that she spreads her angel wings wide and, this time, takes the easy way to the top.
What inspires you about traveling? Come share w/ us! #TMOM Twitter Party 6/6 9pmET & win too! http://bit.ly/mulVPl