In high school and college, I lived in Southern California and spent a lot of time at the beach. I would mostly body surf, skimboard and lay out in the sun in a manner that makes my dermatologist today cringe.
But one day in particular stands out even now because of its implications for meaningful travel. This was the day that my college roommate, Mike, first laid his eyes on the Pacific Ocean.
Mike was from Missouri. Not only had he never seen the Pacific before, but to my amazement, he had never seen a seagull in person. When he did, he became so excited that he chased the birds around like a small child with pigeons, marveling at each one of them. To Mike, seeing the seagulls would be like someone encountering a quetzal in your back yard or having Lady Gaga step into the elevator you’re riding down to the parking garage.
Mike was astonished at the birds. I was astonished at Mike. How could anyone be interested in creatures my local friends and I referred to as “flying rats” and “garbage birds?” Birds that had the most obnoxious squawk in the world, that routinely harassed us and that at times became more aggressive about handouts than one of those guys in New York who, with or without your consent, washes your windshield at a stoplight.
In fact, I still remember my mom telling me of visiting the harbor near Vancouver, B.C. and watching a father hand his four or five-year-old daughter a small cinnamon roll. She held it palm up in front of her like a gleaming treasure, admiring it from all sides. Bad move. One of those flying rats that Mike thought so noble and lovely also admired the cinnamon roll so much that it swooped down and nabbed the tasty bun right out of the little girl’s hand. References to “stealing candy from babies” soon followed the initial shock. But why were they surprised? This was a seagull after all.
So until that day with Mike, if I noticed the nasty birds, I did so with disdain. But I have to admit that Mike’s attention to them changed my perception of the airborne rodents lovely white and gray seabirds. His enthusiasm and appreciation for the seagulls – his fresh eyes – caused me to see them anew. And to this day, while I still think the birds can be obnoxious, I have to admit they do have a certain beauty.
We don’t always have to travel to a far-off land to see something new.
Sometimes all we need is a fresh set of eyes.