How Travel helps you discover your Personal Truth
*Inspired by the Winter Solstice
Ever since the invention of fire, families have huddled together in the flickering light eager for the telling of stories. We gather around the Yule log, the campfire, the hearth, even the backyard barbecue, in search of the warmest memories.
Many stories are pure entertainment, rich with humorous details about some unforgettable mishap, or random circumstance. Laughter brings us together.
Some stories recount great tragedies and, in the retelling, help us mourn and process our grief. These make heroes out of the fallen and make their loss somehow meaningful. These moments create layers to our Personal Truth.
Other stories recount great moments of courage, tests of a character’s personal strength. These opportunities encourage us to dig deep into our personal reserves and pull out some rarely used trait that pulls us forward on difficult journeys. These are stories of inspiration.
What if you discovered that the stories were created for reasons beyond your benefit? What if one day you realize that your father used to repeat a particular story simply to get you to do what he wanted? Or preserve someone’s legacy? What if he just wanted to spare listeners his pain and so decided to change the ending?
In realizing this fundamental element to storytelling, we are faced with two choices. We can be resentful and discount all the stories as false. Or instead, we can search for the missing elements to complete ‘our truth,’ and discover the story through the eyes of the storyteller, rather than the listener.
So begins the journey towards finding our ‘personal truth,’ one that we feel is less edited and richer in detail.
Everyone has a story. Every person.
As any student knows, the first step is to list what you already know and then identify what you don’t know. Start with a family tree and your own personal autobiography. Then move on to family histories supplemented by friends and family members. I love to discover treasures hidden in old family cookbooks, family letters, and old wills.
For example, I recently photocopied a shoebox of letters that my father had written in my college years. I compared them to those from my brothers telling the same stories and discover significant differences in their accounts. Truth hides somewhere in the middle. Reading these as an adult, it was clear that my father had been spinning his version into parables with moral lessons for my benefit. By contrast, my brothers wrote as active participants.
Travel and Personal Truth
So what does travel have to do with truth and stories? Travel leads us outside of our comfort zone and into a world of personal experiences. When I first stood at the foot of Ireland’s holy mountain of Croagh Patrick and looked out toward to water, I finally began to understand the despair of my ancestors who were forced off their lands. To abandon the strength of God’s mountain against your back and set forth across raging waters into an uncertain future is a Truth I wouldn’t know without walking the land.
When I returned to the impoverished rural West of Ireland in search of my heritage, I discovered why my great grandparents severed all connections to their painful past. The more I learned, the more I came to forgive them for closing that chapter to my family story.
Likewise, until I stood on the burning desert sands of Australia’s Nullarbar Plain desperately trying to change a blown tire, I did not truly understand the sacrifices of my deported Irish ancestors. As Mick Hanley poetically describes in his song ‘Crusader’,
There's a wilderness That's a No Man's Land Between Alice Springs and the ocean Seventeen hundred miles of burning sand And a silken thread keeps a hold on you When the emptiness like a potion tends to fray your reason, strand by strand
Travel brings us closer to our own Truths. Tastes, sounds, wilderness and textures somehow reach inside our very souls to connect us to our family history – in extraordinary ways.
Ultimately, Personal Truth is made from those stories you accept, the facts you question, and the moments you live yourself. It also prompts the question: how will we pass on our stories, our own Personal Truths to the generations who follow? Can we inspire them to Travel, to challenge the truths they might cling to?
If Truth lies in the eye of the beholder,
then surely we seek the broadest horizon possible!