Travel Advent Dec. 25: What’s Next

I long pondered what the final post for this advent series should be. A yearly wrap up, or a look at what the next year could hold? Perhaps a look at what this year has been, or what my life is. Instead of all that, I think it’s important that we take a moment of reflection towards why we’re here.

While enjoying our summer of limited restrictions in Denmark, I got in a little spat with a coworker during lunch one day. Masks had yet to be implemented at this time, but they were most certainly on the way. I brought up how I would be sewing my own over the weekend, and how excited I was to go pick out fabrics from the shop to make my cute little masks.

“You know those aren’t as safe as the medical grade masks, don’t you?” my coworker butted in. Of course I know that, you don’t see surgeons going into the OR wearing cartoon llamas on their masks.

“But that’s so wasteful, having to wear and throw away a mask once or twice a day.” I posited back in his direction.

“Well…I think human life is more important here.” And again even lunch in the workplace can not escape politicized arguments. I shrugged and agreed with him, but in my head I went on with the argument.

“Isn’t this mentality the whole reason why we’re here?” I thought. If we go with the theory that COVID spread from a wild animal in a wet market to a human host, then nature is sending us all the right messages. We were getting too close to animals, stuffing ourselves too tight in cities, flying all over the world without accepting the consequences, and filling ourselves with garbage food that tears down our immunes systems. I get angry everyday I walk to work, because I walk by a bus stop where the garbage bin is filled to the brim with nothing but blue masks, and in the ever constant Danish wind those blue masks pick up and float into the bushes and trees where they’ll be for centuries. I just imagine magazines next year with the front page image being some child in a third world country swimming in an ocean full of blue masks, or a turtle swimming through the ocean with a mask on.

But I don’t want to get too negative — what I want to do is find the positives in this situation. We’ve been given the gift of reanalyzing our every day lives. Instead of going back to what “normal” was, we can notice what was bad about the way we were and improve the way we go forward. We can work more from home, or work less in general. Better yet, we can move out of the overcrowded cities and reconnect with nature a bit more while still having our jobs. We can eat better food, and for some of us eat food fresh from the garden. We can fly less, and focus more on the relationships we have growing in our immediate surroundings. And when we do travel, we can take more time to smell the roses and take trains or buses to see more of a destination rather than have weekend long city-escapes. We can spend more time learning hobbies that develop our character and impact our lives positively. There are endless positives we can take into tomorrow with us.

But few of us seem to be excited about these positives. We liked our cozy little normal, and we want more than anything to go back to our comfort zones rather than venture out and see what other lives could await us. The moment businesses open up again, we’ll be back in the office looking at our computer screens for 10 hours a day. As soon as cities open, we’ll all be out on the streets buying garbage and eating junk food. As soon as we can fly again, we’ll buy cheap RyanAir flights that take us to some random city for pennies. I’d be a hypocrite to say I didn’t want these things as well, I liked the way we used to live. But maybe I’d like the way we could live even more.

Maybe the |normal| we were used to wasn’t the way we were supposed to live. What’s the point of working all day so that we can buy things that keep us entertained while we wait to go back to work? There’s no point in working every day looking forward to the weekend, working just to pay for our car payments so that we can afford to go to work in the first place. That’s not what living creatures should do, sitting in front of a computer all day and coming home to eat a microwave meal and watch TV with a beer. What other animal worries so much about fake things like numbers on a computer screen like we do. I think that’s where the problem lies for us, where we messed up as a species. We have a fetish with separating ourselves from the animal kingdom.

Who are we to say we’re any better than animals? We think we’re so special, that because we can talk and make fire we deserve spot like Gods walking among the Earth, better than all other forms of creation. We think we’re different but at the end of the day we die and become food for the bacteria living in between our toes. You think you’re special because you can talk? Other animals communicate too, in ways we can’t even fathom with these big gooey advanced human brains of ours. And about those brains — whales have evolved bigger and more developed brains with emotional responses our human minds can’t even fathom. You think you’re special because you have thumbs and can make tools? So do raccoons when they open up your garbage, and otters when they use rocks to open up mollusks. You think our cities are cool? Try termite mounds and ant hills. We think we’re so special that we created this little caged environments and societies for ourselves when every other animal gets to be free. But I guarantee you we have a purpose as a species to fill in the ecosystem, we just haven’t found it yet.

It’s true, we do have developed emotional responses and the ability to adapt and make tools. That’s one of our great points. We can live anywhere on this Earth, to create amazing works of technology, and do so while communicating in an advanced and clear way. We also hold this unique ability to gain trust from animals. Everything from the cat sitting on my lap right now to an octopus in the sea that a man created an emotional response with. So we have this ability to empathize, to fix and make things better, and to do so all around the globe. Perhaps it sounds like hippy bullshit, but maybe we were made to be ‘healers’ for the globe. To go around, making the Earth a better place with our empathy, ability to adapt, and create tools for good. If not, what else? We certainly didn’t go through the painstaking evolutionary process of over 6 million years to stare in front of a computer all day.

At least, that’s not how I want to live this life. I want to believe that we have better things to do with our brains and abilities, that we had a higher purpose in mind than running about in our own little constructed reality. This is the best time to look at these things, when we lack total control and have realized that the things we’ve been doing have gone too far. There’s a philosophy I like to thing about from the Aymara in Bolivia. They’re one of the few societies that believe we walk through time backwards.

Think about it, we always say “The past is behind us.” That’s because in our culture, we think of ourselves walking linearly across time, going from left to right, young to old and not looking back at the past that is behind us. The Aymara think that we are walking backwards through time: because everything that has happened lies in front of you already where you can see it, while everything that has yet to happen is still behind you out of view. If we can look at history as something that is always in our periphery, always something that can be analyzed and learned from rather than thrown behind us and forgotten, maybe we can move forward with better intentions. Today is meant to be a new beginning, a birth of new ideas and new philosophies to make us better as individuals and as a society. So rather than look at our future with bright starry eyed wishes to return to normal, we need to be able to see that there was something fundamentally wrong with what we called normal.

If we go back to normal, we’ll have another outbreak in a few years. Rather than just putting a bandaid on the situation by telling people to wear masks and wash their hands and get vaccines, what can we do to keep these things from happening in the first place? Could we eat better? Work less? Appreciate this beautiful environment we came from? Tear down this constructed superiority we hold so dear? We need to look at what got us here in the first place, and ponder whether or not that’s the reality we want to keep living in for this lifetime, and for those that come after ours. Merry Christmas — please stay safe, treat each other with love and care, and let’s make 2021 a better year for everyone and everything.

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