September going into October of 2017 has been a month of tragedies that are deeply felt by many Americans, and at the forefront of the media. For me personally, my heart is with the victims of these catastrophic events, from hurricanes, to earthquakes, and mass shootings. Many lives have been lost, many have lost loved ones, many have lost homes. These are losses I cannot begin to understand. But I feel a strange connection to some of these events, because of my travels, and what I will refer to as “close calls.” I was scheduled to fly to San Juan on the morning of September 23, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria just two days before. I arrived home from Las Vegas on October 1, just a day before the shootings. These close calls have stirred some deep thinking. With so much loss, is it appropriate to continue travel amidst tragedy?
Is it right for any of us, but especially for me, to travel the world, when such loss occurs? Is it selfish in the face of such loss? Does my traveling increase the risk to others, or the risk of loss to my loved ones? Does my traveling contribute to the problem?
The sad and unfortunate truth is that if we choose to travel, travel amidst tragedy is unavoidable, because tragedy is an almost normal condition in our short lives. It takes place every day. It is often on a small-scale, such as a freak accident, or terminal illness, but it is not uncommon at a vast scale. It is more often brought on by a brief or sudden event, like an earthquake or a tornado. But there have also been tragedies that have stretched out for years, even decades, such as famines and plagues, and even through our own atrocities, such as war. This has been the human experience, and often our rendering, throughout our existence.
With each generation, and each horrific event, we tend to tell ourselves that such tragedy and loss of life is steadily increasing, that things “are worse than ever.” What is the world coming to, is a common expression. But the simple truth is, tragedy, whether through natural disaster, illness and disease, or human cruelty or destruction are not new, and no more prevalent than they ever have been.
We may be more immediately aware now, because of our possession and use of technology. We may be more emotionally involved because of our interactions with media and social media. We may pay attention over a longer period of time, because capitalism requires that media squeeze out every dollar by stretching coverage to the longest and most dramatically engaging extent possible. None of this means that events and loss are any more frequent, prevalent, or at a greater scale, than in decades or centuries before.
What we also often fail to recognize is that the events we are exposed to are those controlled by the media we have access to, due to politics as well as our own social sense of life value. We are very aware of the lives and homes lost through Hurricane Maria, but how many among us are aware of the lives and homes lost in Typhoon Hato, in southeast Asia, just one month before? We are rightfully shocked and frightened after the Las Vegas shootings, but are we even aware of the Cape Town shootings, just a day before? Or the Thailand shootings, in July? For many of us, the answer is no.
Of course it is only natural to be more devastated by the loss of those we consider to be our own, and to be more terrified of events that occur just outside our back door. But, still this also demonstrates how much more we feel personally impacted by events that are covered through days of non-stop media coverage than we are by something that receives a 30 second blip on the world update.
In saying all of this, I am sure that I am initially coming off as being quite cold, perhaps unsympathetic. Exactly the opposite is true. For me, what is most important, is that in every single tragedy that occurs, whether it involves a single person, or hundreds of people, is knowing that every person involved was a real person, like me.
Every person impacted by recent catastrophes had a name, and a face. Each of them had people they loved, and people who loved them. They had hopes and dreams that were brought to an end by a circumstance beyond their control. Each of them will be mourned, and missed. They will be remembered for many things, and at times, they will be remembered specifically for those dreams that they were never able to fulfill.
Life is unpredictable. We will never know if we have a tomorrow, whether we take it for granted or not. If there is one thing that I wish for everyone, it is that they never take the next day for granted. I wish for everyone to follow where their hearts lead them. I want them to love who they will, powerfully. I want them to do things that quicken their pulses. I want them to let their light shine brightly. I want them to build a life of memories worth telling stories about, and look back upon from time to time, and know that they have lived a good life.
I hope for everyone to live in this way, regardless of age, of money, or of where they live. If a life is unfairly shortened by tragedy, I hope that during the time there was they shone so brightly we all feel the loss. And when one among us is blessed with old age, they become legends to the rest of us through their tales.
So, no, I do not believe that travel amidst tragedy is selfish. For me, and many others like me, travel is what quickens our pulses. It gives us amazing stories and memories, among a multitude of other benefits. This is the path that I take to live life in that manner I wish for all people to live. It is not for me to dictate what each person’s passions and dreams are, but it is my responsibility to support them in the pursuit of their own, and fully pursue mine.
I also believe that true travelers play a small part in decreasing the tragedies of the world. By participating in and appreciating different cultures in the world, and sharing that with others, I hope to help those around me to see the world in the way that I see it: that we are all people with lives and loves and dreams, and deserve to shine brightly. By interacting with those of different beliefs and traditions, and embracing them as people, I open them up to the possibility of seeing me and my culture, in that way as well.
Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, volcanoes, and forest fires, are not preventable, at least with our current technologies. So travel amidst tragedy will always exist. However, human caused destruction is preventable. As each person learns to embrace the world around them, and to value all of it’s people, regardless of how different they are, it decreases the probabilities. As we learn to see individual people, rather than politics, power, or money, we ever so slowly move towards a culture that embraces peace, together.
I will continue to mourn for those lost in recent tragedies, knowing fully that for me the grief will pass, while for those directly impacted it will continue throughout the rest of their lives. But those who survived will go on, and hopefully shine again. And all of the locations impacted by recent tragedy will rise above, from Thailand, to Cape Town, to Hong Kong, Florida, Texas, Mexico, and Puerto Rico and Las Vegas. The people in these places will rebuild, and begin living their lives again.
I will also continue to live my life in the manner that I hope all of those lost lived theirs: loving who I love, doing what quickens my pulse, and building a life or memories. I will continue to travel, amidst tragedy. But, I will also continue to share what I learn, and hope that in it’s tiny way, it helps build the spirit of diversity, appreciation, and peace.
When San Juan residents feel they are ready for visitors again, I will go, and contribute to the local economy, and celebrate their resurgence. And I will write my stories on Las Vegas, and play my little role in their rising above.