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November 4, 2012 / A Mindful Traveler

Thoughts on Hurricane Sandy, Simplicity, and Travel

My thoughts have been occupied for the past few days with the unfortunate devastation that Hurricane Sandy wrought on my hometown of New York City. Although I have every confidence in the resilience of the city and its people, I worry that in addition to the loss of life and tangible property, there are a number of institutions and communities that will no longer be able to proceed as they have. I mean this broadly from neighborhoods whose topography is forever altered to small businesses forced to close from lost sales.

I don’t necessarily agree with this essay by John Hockenberry that I heard yesterday or the way it somewhat self-servingly extols radio (although I’m a huge fan of both Hockenberry and the medium) but I did find it thought-provoking. It raises some interesting issues about our somewhat naïve assumption about the extent to which we can control nature, as well as the conversion of the city’s waterways from socially undesirable workplaces to photo opportunities. It’s well worth five minutes of your time.

The disaster has also made me think about the extent to which we come to rely upon technology, such as electricity and running water, assuming that what is initially a luxury will always work once it becomes standardized. The fact that I’m posting this reflection on the internet, the computer used to type it, and the electricity that powers it are all things I implicitly take for granted by producing this blog.

I’ve spent some of my happiest times without these conveniences, or running water for that matter, but that was entirely by choice, temporary, and largely in warm weather. (When the weather wasn’t warm, I had a fire to warm me.) I’d admit the knowledge I’d return to these conveniences made me perhaps just as reliant upon them as using them all along.  What makes them convenient isn’t so much using them as having the option to do so.

Travel generally comes with the implicit assumption of a departure and a return in the same way. The comfort of an expected return home has often has led me to take greater risks, both in traveling and my activities while traveling, than I otherwise might have done. This has enriched my life and I hope that of others, but nonetheless relies upon this expectation.

As with other conveniences, the reliability of transportation often varies. I’ve observed lateness counted in seconds on trains in Switzerland and in hours on buses in Argentina. (In both cases there’s a reason for this.)  Sometimes by focusing on the journey rather than the arrival time, I’ve learned to sometimes even appreciate these delays by realizing there’s a certain freedom in knowing what I can’t do as well as what I can.  Still, I’m far from being able to do this anything close to consistently.

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