I’m composing this blog post while sipping coffee at a table on the sidewalk outside the funky James Bay Coffee & Books. I was wearing my Manitoba winter jacket but have taken it off because I was way too warm. There are some clouds overhead but the blue sky is also showing itself this morning. Across the street is James Bay Square, home of a Thrifty’s grocery store and several other businesses. It’s a bustling area but I get a kick out of observing that there are just as many pedestrians as motorists. I’ve rarely seen so many people walking dogs or pulling those granny grocery carts in my life. And I’m so happy to be here right now!
Drinking coffee at a sidewalk café in a city is not the most glamorous activity in the world, but today I love it because it is DIFFERENT from what I am used to. All my life I have craved novelty and new experiences. When I was a kid, my parents would take my brothers and me for Sunday drives in the country. I loved, and still love, travelling down new roads for the first time. They may not be the prettiest roads I have ever seen, but the new-ness awakens my curiosity and imagination.
I love observing people in new locations and wondering about how they live their lives. Even in rural Manitoba, where there is some common experience born out of geography, I was fascinated by the villages and the Hutterite colonies, the mansions and the mobile homes.
When Chris and I travelled to India in 2009, I was pretty uncomfortable for most of the six weeks we were there. I experienced culture shock and sensory overload including crowding, pollution, aggressive touts and noise in the form of constant horn-honking. While if I had to choose, I would way rather live out my days on the Canadian prairies than almost anywhere in India, India remains one of my most cherished travel memories. What made it so amazing and memorable was how different it was from all my previous life experiences and reference points.
To give an example, an Indian man struck up a conversation with Chris on a bus travelling between two cities. After showing us pictures of his family and telling us some of his life story, he invited us to his home for supper. While at the time we were not nearly trusting or spontaneous enough to change our travel plans, we were deeply touched by this man’s openness and generosity. Being invited to a stranger’s home is an experience we are unlikely to have in North America!
In a time when lines are increasingly being drawn between people of different races, religions, nationalities and sexual orientations, I think that stepping outside of our comfort zones and seeing how other people live is a powerful way to increase empathy and promote peace and respect in the world.
Even though Chris and I have only changed provinces, we are immersing ourselves in a more urban, west coast culture that is certainly DIFFERENT – although not necessarily better or worse – than where we lived before. I am excited to continue to experience these differences over the weeks and months ahead.
To conclude, I challenge you to reflect on what new experiences you crave in your lifetime. Are there small steps you can take to experience more novelty in your current life? And what could a big step look like for you?