In the early 1970’s as China was opening to the West, a visiting diplomat found out that the country’s Premier, Zhou Enlai, had spent some time during the 1920’s studying political thought and history in France. So the diplomat asked Zhou what he thought about the French Revolution.
“It is too soon to tell.”
Zhou Enlai’s response regarding the almost two hundred-year-old event reflects well the Chinese sense of scope and history. His words also capture my own feelings on coming home from a journey and being confronted with the question, “How was your trip?”
Each trip is different, but for me, returning home usually involves some jumbled combination of these sentiments:
- Exhilaration at what I’ve seen
- Relief to be home after a long trip
- Gratitude to God that all has gone so well
- Confusion as to what it all means
- Anticipation to see my photos from the trip
- Frustration at not being able to recall and sort out right away all that happened
- Unconscious desire to jump from experience to supposed learning without taking time to reflect and mine the deeper meaning there
That last point is especially tough because I usually want to take a particular experience on the trip and immediately project it or apply it as a principle to my life. I want to rush a process that shouldn’t be hurried.
For example, on our recent trip to Peru, it would be easy to assume that since I spent a great deal of time conversing and laughing with the desk clerk at the inn where we stayed for several days, that I now understand how Peruvians think or that we had a significant connection. Maybe we did, but I’m still too close to the event to sort that out or to know if that’s even the right question to be asking.
Part of asking the right questions is to realize that the answers aren’t always found in the facts alone about my trip. How I felt, what I sensed, and why some moments left me stunned all require a scrutiny that goes beyond the who, what, where, why, when and how of my itinerary.
My post-trip reflection is not a sterile recounting of facts but a mining of the experience to glean the nuggets of meaning and to ponder the transcendent moments. What I remember about my trip is less like a newspaper account and more like a good movie.
Each trip is a story, one I’ll eventually be able to relate to others after I’ve had the time to discern the highlights and unpack the major themes.
It takes time to appreciate the fullness of that story and what truly matters to me, to my family and to others. I’m learning to give myself the time necessary to know that story, live with it, try it out and see if it rings true to my experience and holds all the meaning I sense lies deep within the journey.
So the moral of this story? Don’t rush it. Because until you’re ready, it’s a story that is too soon to tell.