I love The Fresh Air Fund.
Since 1877, the non-profit has provided free summer vacations to New York City children who would otherwise spend their June through Septembers in a bustling, crowded city. The Fund matches these children with area camps or families that are eager to invite them to stay and indulge them in the simple pleasures of summertime in rural and suburban communities.
In my domestic fantasies –yes, Georgetown students have them –I see myself, fourteen years from now, opening the doors of my butter-colored Dutch Colonial to an armful of these children each summer. We will bake cookies together, run through the sprinkler and laugh at the dog as he chases squirrels out of the yard.
There will be no back-talk to Mama Liz.
The Fresh Air Fund, like all travel, seeks to open minds, shift perspectives, rattle allegiances. There is always a world beyond the limits of our minds, and past our perceptions of who were are and who we should be. A breath of fresh air, a saunter away from the harried expectations of our own little worlds can be terribly confusing and yet profoundly liberating.
I went to California for the first time in February and was shocked to find that, on the West Coast, the ocean actually is a Westerly ocean. As an East Coast girl, when I think “Ocean,” I think Atlantic, East, towards Europe and . . . the rest of the world. I felt disoriented in California, like a compass spinning wildly, seeking realignment. How strange this world is, I thought.
During high school, I spent more than a few sleepless nights furiously doing work so I could be accepted at a good college, get a good degree, meet a good man, and have absolutely adorable babies. That’s actually how my logic functioned: homework = babies. You better believe I studied my vocabulary words.
But somewhere in between pre-calculus and world history, I became aware of how tightly I had wrapped myself up into my own tiny world. The pressure to perform had made me into a self-serving lunatic, and at my worst, it still does that to me today. But one night back in high school, something freed me.
It was 2 a.m. in New York, which is 7 a.m. in London, just the time its humans reemerge from their nightly retreat. I found a web cam of Trafalgar Square in London, and in the middle of that New York night, I watched people, an ocean away, pick up their morning papers, jog, walk their dogs. “They don’t care about you,” I reminded myself as I watched them. They go on, without you. And I liked that.
The world is infinitely large, but I often make mine suffocatingly small. And acknowledging my smallness in its vastness, amidst profound disorientation and confusion, can sometimes make a girl quite powerful.
Where to go from here? To whom do I owe my allegiances? How shall I act, as an American, a Catholic, a human? What am I in this world? What do I owe to this world?
From this view, the answers are not as clear.
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