On August 11, 2001, my husband George and I departed for a journey around Europe that lasted until the following July. It was sometimes challenging, sometimes tiring, always interesting and the greatest experience of my life (other than some important family times).
While we traveled I kept a diary, recording not just the places we saw but also my reactions to some of our many experiences. We were in Belgium on 9/11. We were in England for the Queen’s 50th Jubilee. We caught a glimpse of Pope John Paul II. And we met many good people.
Just before we left George gave me a digital camera, still a new gadget then and something of a novelty. How I loved that camera! The pictures I took with it look terrible now because the quality was so poor but I took thousands of pictures on that trip!
After 15 years I’ve finally combined my diary with some of those photos and the great many postcards, ticket stubs, maps and brochures we sent home as we traveled. Together, in large binders, they take two-feet of shelf space. I tell myself they will delight me when I’m a (really) old lady so I’ve created these scrapbooks for that future me.
I’ve just read the last paragraphs of my diary for the first time in quite a long time. I had no memory of these words or the experiences they describe. They were written in the months after 9/11 and the beginning of America’s war in Afghanistan. They were written nine months before the Iraq war began. I’d like to share them with you.
“Our excellent adventure is nearly done. We have had a wonderful trip. We have seen so many famous, historic, interesting and beautiful places. We have met so many good and interesting people. Four people we met yesterday and today represent the best part of our trip, and I want to record them as representative of many others.
“We ate at a Pizza Hut in London last night, and our waitress was a young woman from Poland. She was delightful and she was happy that we had been to Poland and especially that we had been to Gdansk as her home is near there. She is earning a master’s degree in Linguistics. She said her life’s dream had been to go to India, and she went there for a month last year. She is a very happy person and we really enjoyed talking with her.
“Then we went to the left-luggage room at Charing Cross station, where I had parked an extra duffle bag I had to buy yesterday for all the souvenirs and junk we are hauling home. The young man working there began quite a conversation with us. He said he is from Lille, France, and that his mother is from Martinique. Again, he asked a hundred questions about where we had been, what we had seen, what we liked best. He was so much fun to meet because he was so genuinely interested in what we had to say.
“This morning I talked for a while with Yolanda, the young assistant manager at the hotel where we stayed in London. She is from Barcelona, and she liked hearing about our trip. She told me a bit about her career and we talked about how great Barcelona is, and about Spain. Each of these young people was so interested in our trip – it was fun to tell them about it.
“Next we took a cab across London to catch our train. It was driven by a man about 40, a Muslim Pakistani, very religious but very knowledgeable about Judaism and Christianity as well has Islam. He said people harassed him after September 11 but that has stopped. He said the politicians make all the trouble, that God teaches us all to be good to one another which is what he believes in. He opposes what the terroristic fanatics have done, and I think he probably represents the vast majority of Muslims.
“Four people in less than 24 hours who represent the hundreds of smart, interested, kind, well-meaning people we have met on our journey. That has been the best part and the most important lesson we have learned. From this trip I learned that all people are alike, that we all want the same things, that this is a small planet.”
Tomorrow the best president of my lifetime will leave the White House and the most unfit will become President of the United States. Like most of my friends I am worried and frightened. I’m going to work at remembering the last lines in my long diary: “All people are alike, we all want the same things, this is a small planet.”