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2012 January — The Meaningful Traveler

January 2012

You had to be there – Part 5

by Steve Brock on January 25, 2012

This weekly market in Aix-en-Provence, France, just down from the corner that amazed me, is a wonder in itself

We have looked at many ways to understand the phrase “You had to be there.” Now, let’s take a look at one final way to understand these five little words and all they contain.

Travel – being there – occurs both externally (what’s going on around us) and internally (what’s going on inside our hearts, minds and spirits).  Think of the external level as the trip itself, our journey to new places. But in some ways, even more important is the internal – how our imaginations come alive in response to that place, which emotions are evoked, what associations we bring that filter how we see.

You may, for example, be playing tourist in some new location. And then voila, you find your pulse quickening, your chest tightening and you realize that either your traveling companion had better know CPR or you’ve just experienced one of those transcendent moments where the world around you stimulates the world within you and you are moved beyond reason.

Some grand vista or the faintest welcoming gesture of a passing local touches you deeply and an explosion goes off inside you. You start looking around to see if anyone caught on video the moment you left your own body.

 I remember standing at a small intersection of cobble-stoned streets in Aix-en-Provence, France simply mesmerized by the scene: ochre-colored walls, shuttered windows, intricately carved doors, ornate balconies and people scurrying about on their way to and from the weekly farmers’ market. The scene matched yet transcended every travel poster I’d ever seen.

But it did something more.

Being there, in that place on a glorious summer day, touched a longing beyond nostalgia or impressions formed by images in travel magazines or on travel websites. Here I encountered a combination of all that so many of us love about travel: the promise of adventure, romance, mystery and exploration.

Yet even more, I literally ached inside from the joy of just being in a place of such beauty while simultaneously knowing I could not remain there, that more lay just around the next corner to be discovered, that odd combination of fullness and incompletion. 

In such places, your inside and outside journeys coalesce. The outer triggers the inner while the inner informs and adds additional delight to all that lies around you.

But you had to be there for those two worlds to meet.


Read all the other parts of this series on You Had to Be There: Part 1, Part 2, Part 2 ½, Part 3 and Part 4.


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You had to be there – Part 4

by Steve Brock on January 17, 2012

Who will sit next to you and what will they say to you? More importantly, what will you say to them?

When we talk about the various meanings of “You had to be there,” we normally think of “being there” as being someplace physically. And of course that’s the prerequisite for being there in other ways. But these other ways include being there mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, showing up fully with all your senses and attention.

In short, it  means being present.

Every trip provides you with the opportunity for presence. But it does take effort. Presence requires concentration, energy, and frankly, the need to care enough to invest those resources. But when you do, you gain a much fuller understanding of people, places and situations.

One of the most common opportunities for being present occurs every time you get on an airplane. Other then sleeping on the deck of a ferryboat in Indonesia, riding in the second-class compartment of a train in rural China or India or traveling on a long-distance bus in Ecuador, you rarely spend that much time with a complete stranger so physically close to you.

Because of the artificial intimacy forced by airline seats, most of us do one of two things. We either send the signal “Do Not Disturb” by burying our noses in the in-flight magazine or tuning out the world with our iPods. Or we engage in some superficial banter with our seat companions. But sometimes, when we go beyond that and are present to them, we gain something both rich and meaningful.

For example, recently I was on a flight and got into a conversation with a gentleman who is a medical doctor. We started talking about travel and how oftentimes, the worst travel experiences make for the best stories later on. He proceeded to tell me about a trip many years ago to a remote island in the South Pacific where he came down with a serious tropical disease.

It took him three days just to get a boat from the primitive island where he and his wife were staying to the larger island where he initially was treated at the local hospital. But after only a day there, the hospital released him prematurely. He then found a small clinic where a kind doctor patiently nursed him to a point where he could fly home.

When he offered to pay the doctor at the clinic, the doctor refused. The man was in medical school at the time and therefore the doctor saw it as “professional courtesy” to treat the man for free. But the most meaningful moment occurred when the man’s wife thanked and praised the doctor for his services and skill.

The doctor humbly replied: “I only put on the bandages. God does the healing.”

That one simple comment completely changed how the young medical student viewed medicine. And it continues to this day to affect how he thinks about his practice and how he approaches the entire healthcare system where he works.

That doctor’s comment so many years ago changed this man. And in a small way, by taking time to be present to him and the depths of his story, it has changed me as well, or at least how I think about doctors and medicine.

When you realize the opportunities for presence afforded by modern airline travel, it also changes how you think about those cramped seats. It doesn’t make them any more comfortable, but it can make the journey – and the act of being there – much more rewarding.


If you haven’t done so already, you may want to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 2 1/2Part 3  and Part 5 of “You Had to Be There.”

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You had to be there – Part 3

by Steve Brock on January 12, 2012

Say "hi" to my dog Ginger. With a nose like that, she's never at a loss for experiencing the world with all her senses...

We’ve explored some of the deeper meanings of the phrase “you had to be there.” We looked at how the Incarnation relates to travel and the idea that we always bear our souls with us when we travel.

Enough deep stuff. Let’s go a bit lighter this time.

“You had to be there” relates primarily to the notion that travel – good travel – is experiential. We engage people, places and situations when we travel with the fullness of our senses.

When we travel, we smell more (which could be interpreted that we shower less, but my point is that we’re more aware of scents – not always a good thing). We reach out and touch surfaces and feel textures we’d never be curious enough to bother with at home. We tune in to new sounds and are intrigued by new forms of music. We see more and often pay better attention than at home where familiarity blinds us to the wonder that lies around us.

And then there are all those exotic foods to be tasted…

In our routines and workaday lives we experience so little of the world around us. But the novelty of a new place opens us. All of our senses go on alert like over-caffeinated prairie dogs, popping up when we least expect them and alerting us that “being there” can mean feeling more alive.

I can try and describe this experiential way of living and traveling but even better is for you to experience it yourself. So today or sometime this week, just for a short while, go someplace and reintroduce yourself to your five senses.

Find a place to sit and do this exercise to attune yourself to those senses:

  • Listen for five sounds and try to identify them.
  • Look for five things you didn’t notice before.
  • Detect five smells (yes, it’s ok to get up close and sniff).
  • Be aware of what you’re feeling physically: cold air, soft seat cushion, scratchy sweater, etc. Find five things you feel tangibly.
  • Try a new food if the opportunity permits and then try and describe the taste.

Now if you’re gutsy, repeat the exercise looking for four, then three then two then one of each sense.

It may sound like a silly exercise. But try it. After all, there’s only one way to appreciate the fullness of your senses in a place.

You have to be there.


If you haven’t done so, check out the rest of the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 2 1/2, Part 4 and Part 5

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You had to be there – Part 2 1/2

by Steve Brock January 4, 2012

Here’s a short side trip from the idea of “You had to be there” that reflects the ability of kids to capture some profound ideas about silence, souls and travel.

Read the full article →