It’s the spring of 1997 and there’s a crisp bite to the air. I stand alone in cut-offs and a too-clean shirt, brow furrowed, examining the sloping expanse of my parents’ backyard.
I am eight years old and I have a decision to make.
Punished (for what, I can’t recall), I had been sent to the farthest corner of the backyard with the flick of my mother’s finger, ordered to pick up our play equipment and bring the bin of toys to the basement. Jaw tight, I had glared at my mother before turning stiffly on my heel, accepting my fate.
The scene before me looked like a battlefield dream sequence. Badminton racquets were buried in the grass. A volleyball net stood, poles planted in the ground like sturdy oaks. Soccer, bocce and basketballs littered the lawn like grenades. And in the middle of this jumbled scene sat one solitary plastic Sterilite bin – large enough for me to curl up in comfortably.
I took a long steady look and held my breath for a moment, unwilling to admit defeat.
I figured there were two options: either I could take the equipment in increments, making multiple treks back and forth across the lawn, or figure out a way to move it all at once. But how? If I filled the bin, it would be too heavy to lift by myself, let alone drag clear across the lawn.
Earlier that week in school, we had cracked open our history books and begun a lesson on Native American history. I was fascinated by the stories of the Navajo, Iroquois and finally, the Cherokee – a tribe who had used felled trees to move and transport heavy objects.
Recalling this lesson, I hatched a plan. Using the two volleyball poles, I would roll the heavy toy bin across the grass all in one shot. Quickly, perhaps emboldened by the prospect of outsmarting my parents, I crammed every last racquet and ball into the bin then lifted it, one side at a time, so that it balanced precariously atop the two poles. I was sweating and triumphant. I began my salvage operation putting one foot in front of the other all the way to the basement.
That day in the lawn marked my discovery of the power of stories. The tales I devoured from my history book had the power, not only to teach, but to unite. Those stories wove past to present, child to adult, student to teacher. Much later, I realized that day, too, had begun my inclinations in travel. Though the conventional way may be to take the logical path set before you, I choose to seek out the hidden road in search of the unusual, forgotten or mundane.
In the 18 years that have passed since that fateful afternoon, I’ve sniffed out adventure in countless countries and continents. I’ve slept in an igloo in the middle of the Swiss Alps, cooked plantains alongside my Nicaraguan host mother, witnessed 24 hours of daylight in St. Petersburg, gotten lost in South Africa’s leopard country and traveled across the world to Taiwan, where I met my mother’s family for the first time.
Though my search for meaningful experiences grows ever longer, my desire to learn about the world and unite its people through stories hasn’t wavered. I’ve learned that it’s the search for these connections, be it within the pages of history books or through your own travels, that is your reward.