As the mother of nine children, I rarely traveled and never took a plane when my children were young. I doubt most mothers of big families do. First there is the cost factor. Barring great wealth or a large loan, it is nearly financially impossible to take a brood of children far away. The tickets, gas, the double hotel room necessity, food that must be purchased on the road — all these things make traveling just too expensive. Second, there is the logistics consideration. Let’s face it — it’s a bit tricky to plan, pack, load and then implement a trek with, say, five or more little ones, especially since a steady, quick, cadenced pace must be kept over a duration of time. (Think: marathon). And then, to avert car or plane sickness, a steady supply of snacks are needed … and frequent bathroom breaks. … Third, I was afraid of flying. I hated the feeling of not being in control. I hated the dips in the air, every little bump of turbulence. I hated being above the clouds.
While I did not travel when my children were all small, as they grew older this began to change, and I began to travel, even alone — mostly because when my young adult children graduated from college, they took jobs out of town, two of them 2,000 plus miles away. As every devoted mother knows, nothing comes between her and her offspring, not the least of which a stretch of highway (or air space), many miles and time zones away. Not even a fear of flying can stand in the way. “If you can’t keep them home, go to them,” mothers do and say. And so I did.
And so I, who not only did not travel in my mother-youth, and has not one wanderlust gene in her body, became a person who semi-regularly now tackles four-hour flights and five days away with just her two carry-on pieces of luggage and an actual, legitimately relaxed spirit. I’ve come a long way, baby.
Last week I flew to San Francisco. My second oldest son was a top fundraiser for a charity that is close to my heart and I wanted to surprise him by attending. Then, I headed down to Los Angeles, where my oldest son just made a big career change.
As I stared out the window on the way home from both visits, it occurred to me that traveling has over time improved my spiritual and religious life. That might initially sound weird, but please hear me out. Here’s how traveling helped me be a better Catholic:
I become grateful during my time away. Just observing other people and how they live, I appreciate my husband, my home, my house, and even little things like my cool soft comfy pillow. I also become grateful for the sweet niceties I have a chance to enjoy when I travel. Checking into the hotel last weekend, I was met with dimmed lights in a sweet smelling room and classical music playing softly from a device near the side of the bed. I am grateful for the quiet time away to think and reflect upon my life and the state of my soul, and I pray spontaneously, naturally with thankfulness to God for all I have been given. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. …” — Col. 3:16.
Traveling gives me time and distance for perspective. All those hours stretching before me in a plane (or car) offers me a chance to do an examination of conscience. How did I fail today? What attitudes will help me remedy that? How did I succeed? How do I make the most of the time in front of me the rest of the day? I think of the Ten Commandments and how I ought be applying them in my life. Am I being an instrument of truth, beauty and goodness in this world? In the quiet of the moments before me when I travel, it becomes sparkling clear how I can be a better wife, mother, friend and person.
Traveling forces me to rely on myself, and in turn, God. While traveling I have to look at the map and make decisions. I have to pay attention. I have to overcome my fears and realize ultimately I am dependent on God. I find myself quietly saying things like, “OK, Lord, help me figure this out.” Or “Now what?” Getting out of the familiar I am challenged to use my intelligence and to trust both my prayerfully guided judgment and God.
Traveling helps me learn compassion. Many of the people I meet in my travels live lives very different from mine. They have varied backgrounds. Their viewpoints are often vastly different. It is interesting to discover why they think the way they do, and that some of their choices are based on a worldview presented to them when they were young. God made them. God loves them. I feel called to emulate Mother Teresa who said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” I choose to love them and trust that God, who truly knows their hearts, will judge them best.