This summer I experienced what changed me and continues to. The things I learned over the 4,664 miles of road tripping that I did, reaching all the way down to Mississippi and all the way up to Montreal, are lessons I want to share with you. The number one rule that should guide your explorations of the world is that you are down and up for whatever comes your way; your mantra: “let’s do it”. As an experiencer, your job is to experience, to effloresce, and not to govern. When we push the limits of our comfort zones and let the world take us, we do more things that we remember, and more things that are worth remembering.
Such a mindset compelled me to hike those 11 miles through the pouring rain up Mount Cammerer in Tennessee. It is the reason I left the trail and made my way through the creeks and up the gorgeous waterfalls. It is what brought me to cliff jump forty feet into distant waters. These experiences came only through accepting the world as it came.
Far away from home, the world an open highway, I realized more than ever that when I go on trips, I don’t go for the places; I go for the people. When I say this I mean more than the people I’m with and the experiences I create with them. The people I intend to mention are everywhere; they are on your trip whether you plan them to be or not. They share this world with you whether you like it or not. With the highest exhortation of my deepest inclination, I implore you to learn to like it. I implore you to learn to love it.
If I had not spoken to the people I was surrounded with my trip would have lost so much of its luster. I made an effort to go out of my way to strike up conversations, to ask people questions: to connect. “What’s your favorite sound?” I’d ask. “How have you grown in the last month?” “What’s a parenting skill you think is vital?” “What are you grateful for in this very moment?” Not only did this allow me to speak with interesting people, it made so many strangers expressedly happy, but it also brought out thoughtfulness that was novel and appreciated.
Very often these verbal exchanges metamorphose into different kinds of connections. They allow you to share your mantra with someone else. If I hadn’t gone out of my way to bring others into my life I would have missed out on so many amazing experiences. I wouldn’t have jammed guitar with a Quebecer, singing out to the streets of Montreal. I wouldn’t have learned to waltz from the ballroom dancer in Virginia, to swing dance at a karaoke bar in Nashville, Tennessee. I would have missed the history behind the color variations in the Washington Monument. I would never have heard the touching gratitude of an elderly woman, exuberant that she could now work the cash register after months of recovering from injury.
That night on the beach with drinks and Polish faces, deep conversation while only the waves told of time’s passing, would never have been. The poem in my journal, each line composed by a new person, would not exist; nonexistent would be this canto that artfully connects people so beautifully. I would never have gotten a group of people to sing together on the ferry. I would never have met that Amish family and worked on their farm for a day. The list goes on, and I plan to keep writing it. When you choose to connect to the people around you, when you actively pursue shared experiences, the world makes them easy to come by.
Where all of this hits home is the critical point I want to make, and is what compelled me to write this in the first place. Running around as a student there is ample room for excuses: “There are too many people here, I’ll never meet them all!” “I don’t have time right now for new friends.” “They’re all in a rush, there’s no way they want to talk.” The problem is that these excuses become habit and then lose their status as excuses. They become facts of our lives: I will not speak to new people unless I must. But when I walk through the YU campus, I can’t help but be inundated with the feeling of the uniqueness of my situation. I am surrounded by people who I can immediately relate to because more than sharing humanness, we share fundamental values. My eyes fall on my fellow student and I realize that both of us are the product of a heartrending past of a nation whose goal is to fill the world with light. We both work tirelessly to become worthy expressions of that aspiration. I feel so compelled to speak to humans because they’re human; how much more so do I feel this for the people who surround me here.
I close with the anecdote that inspired me to write this piece. I walked towards the elevator from my dorm room in Morg and someone I slightly recognized was there waiting. Always the choice: do we connect? Do we treat each other like stones? I saw that he was wearing a suit jacket and I commented on it with a smile: “All Jewed out! Why so fancy?” He told me that he was on his way to prayer. I expressed how touching and thoughtful it is that he prepares for prayer in such a meaningful way. To this he turned to me with somber pride and said in a low but confident voice, “My father passed away this past summer and so I took this on. It’s something he would do.” I looked him straight in the eye and expressed condolences for his loss. I told him how beautiful what he is doing is. I wished him the most meaningful of prayers and walked out of that elevator with a burning need to share the message: we should talk more.