Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Time is Relative

by Juliet

Einstein was right: time is relative.

(Or I think he’s right…since I fail to grasp even the most rudimentary of mathematical equations I can’t really be sure. But it sounds good.)

You don’t have to be a physicist to understand that time is relative. Just go someplace new. Travel.

You can be gone from home for three days, and it feels as though you’ve been gone for weeks…and at the same time, the time seems to pass in the blink of an eye. Leave town for a few weeks – the same period of time that can easily slip by, hardly noticed, in normal life– and it can feel like a lifetime. That month in the Philippines felt like a year in some ways, but I couldn’t believe my time was up when I had to leave; the six weeks in a medieval French town are still swollen with memories, but at the same time they passed far too fast. I remember details and sensations from those sojourns in a way that I rarely do in my everyday life.

Why is this? I think that travel forces us to be present, to see the world anew, as though we were infants. Nothing is expected. Think about the romance of narrow, thousand-year old cobblestone streets in Paris; the exotic aromas of spices and incense wafting by in a Tangiers marketplace; the wonder of a tiny child climbing an impossibly tall mango tree in Mezquitic. Those are images that will stay with me forever – while I too often manage to ignore the pink and orange sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge, a sight that others will travel halfway around the world to take in.

Traveling is tiring for that very reason: nothing is rote, all is fresh and must be taken in, interacted with, assessed. Maybe this is why infants sleep so much: the world is a brand-new blaze of color and sensation every day.

I grew up in Cupertino back when it was orchards and houses. I read books about exotic lands and dreamed of traveling, which I did as soon as I possibly could. I went to live in Spain, then traveled through Europe and North Africa. I’ve returned to Europe several times, lived for short spells in Mexico, and have visited Central America, Cuba, the Philippines, Canada, and through many parts of the U.S.

And when I had a child, I sent him to the French-American school (Berkeley’s Ecole Bilingue), where he not only learned to speak French like a native but also grew up thinking that international travel was normal and expected -- his friends were from China, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and French-speaking Canada. He went to France on exchange programs in the fifth and eighth grades. He’s traveled to Mexico repeatedly with his father, and I dragged him along to live in Florence, Italy one summer and Tillac, France another. Before the age of thirteen the child had traveled more than ten average Americans, combined, do in their entire lifetime.

Now, the tri-lingual boy who can sling a well-packed satchel over one shoulder and deal with train schedules and dietary habits and bizarre customs in countries as diverse as Belgium and Honduras has no interest, whatsoever, in traveling. He figures he’s done with all that, and wants to hang out with his friends in Northern California, which he has declared to be the best of all the worlds he’s seen.

Somehow, I managed to create a homebody.

*Sigh* Still, he’s traveled enough to understand a profound truth: time is relative, as are customs and ethics and ideals. And most importantly, he knows that people are different everywhere, and yet very much the same. It’s a lesson he’ll never forget, I'll wager.

I guess it’s all relative.


Big Sis said...

Juls love the imagery, that is a writer for you.......... I love the fact that we grew up in the absolute same place, with the same influences and I am like Sergio. a homebody. Except for the museums, i find everything I want in the people around me. I have always been astounded that Dad was as well travelled as he was, he would often mention a place that he had been to in his life that I had no idea, and like Sergio, no desire to roam again. Weird...

Mysti said...

He'll stay home until the day an exotic beauty from somewhere far away drops into a coffee shop and schools him on something he thought he was an expert on. He'll fall in love and travel the planet, charm her parents, and they'll get married and live happily ever after, because you showed him the world is a place that is both big and full of love.

He's a lucky young man indeed.

Gigi Pandian said...

I bet he'll change his mind by Junior year of college. I was dragged around the world as a kid, then went to college all of 30 miles from where I grew up before I'd had enough California college life and my own personal wanderlust hit me -- I was 20.

Juliet Blackwell said...

I must admit to a secret wish that he'll do the same, learn to love travel for its own sake, and for his ;-)

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