Obscured Lenses

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
1
260
Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Saturday, October 22, 2011

Some thoughts about travelers' first trips abroad.

You know how you occasionally look up and see how filthy your car's windshield is, and you’re mildly surprised that you let it get that dirty? That you kept saying, "I’ll clean it later." But you’re not shocked. You’ve been in and out of the car, so it hasn’t been a constant, and it’s a couple of feet away, so you’ve had plenty of unobscured views despite the grime. But still, it’s kept you from seeing properly, and you know it’s a problem. So you clean it. Then it’s better.

But that’s nothing like wearing glasses as a kid and letting them slowly build up with fingerprints and grease and dirt. It’s such a slow process that it occurs unnoticed, and it’s so close to you that there’s never a moment of clarity in between. It’s always there, that film between you and the outside world. And you won’t ever notice this impediment until you take off the glasses one day, or someone does it for you because you still haven’t noticed or thought about it, and clean the lenses.

And the instant you put them back on there is such an amazing shock, a moment when the world is so startlingly clear…that you stifle a breath. Partly because everything looks so new and sharp and stunning, but even more so because you can’t believe you somehow failed to realize things had gotten so bad. Your mind instantly jumps back and thinks about all the things you missed or saw incorrectly or blurrily, all the beauty that you didn’t absorb properly, all the scenes that were altered, because your view had been so completely and unknowingly obscured.

That’s what travel can do.

There are instants on the road that fundamentally change your view of the world, when a veil is lifted, and you can’t believe you didn’t notice that you weren’t seeing clearly. And just like the glasses, it’s because it was too close to you. It was too ever-present. It was too slow of a process…that slow life-long alteration of your outlook. But in this case the film that steadily built up over your perception was a lifetime of indoctrination. It was a build-up of misinformation, fear, bigotry, sanctimony, xenophobia, and ignorance. It was a thick coating of things you and everyone around you had put there, slowly and unwittingly, and in one fantastic moment it is gone.

That’s the best thing you can find out there on the road, in some strange town or conversation or scene: moments of brilliance that literally wipe away the fingerprints that other people have left on your mind, that made you see the world through their lenses and not your own.
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