Exactly one year ago today, I embarked on a nearly 4-month-long journey to France, Italy, and (though I didn’t know it at the time), Germany. I got my passport stamped 4 times. I had one of the most [prolonged] learning and growing experience of my life– a period during which I was enriched in new ways every second of every day.
Things haven’t come very far. If I was a junior again this year, I would certainly take the trip again in a heartbeat. I would do so with more insight to the process of traveling, more confidence with the French language, and more knowledge in general. However, I would do so with, hopefully, the same amount (or more) of open-mindedness and enthusiasm. How can we expect to learn anything if we aren’t willing to try new things?
I don’t think I was a different person while traveling than I am today. I don’t think I would be a different person in France if I were to be there again tomorrow (with possible exception to my host family– I regret not talking to them more and being so shy). But for some reason, I don’t think I have had the same open mindedness and enthusiasm since getting back from my trip that I had abroad. I guess, since I have command of the language, and I have a very reliable and independent mode of transportation, and I have an immediately accessible support network near me, I have not felt like taking risks… or I have not felt that every action is a risk.
To be clear, I don’t think that every action is a risk. That would be silly and paranoid. But I do think that a traveler needs to look at every experience as a learning opportunity, and approach decisions and situations with a certain degree of caution and wariness… mixed with a healthy amount of spontaneity and a carefree attitude.
I seriously believe that traveling well is an art form. I dare you to challenge me.
So, what I mean by treating every action like a “risk,” is that even in our home countries, where we feel very comfortable and grounded, we have not only the ability to, but also almost an obligation to, go about life with the awareness, caution, spontaneity, and carefree manner that we would if we were traveling. This should enable to learn as much as possible from everyday activities, as well as those activities that break us out of our comfort zones.
For the record, another belief of mine is that the fundamental purpose of individuals’ lives (as distinguished from the purpose of human life in general) is to learn. And yes, I also believe that the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. So shoot me.
Which brings me to my real point: I broke out of my comfort zone today. The thrill of it reminded me of traveling, which in turn made me realize that I was automatically treating my day of “first times” like I would have any activity in France: with awareness, caution, spontaneity, and that carefree attitude.
The activity: Shooting guns at a range with a couple guys I’ve known about two months.
I could write another whole blog post about how vehemently opposed I am to the use (misuse?) of weapons, especially for the purpose of harming or in any way endangering a human life. nuh-uh. Hell to the no. Until about a week ago, I’d scarcely picked up a gun, which meant that I had neither learned to shoot one nor learned how to behave around one safely. But… it also meant that I was pretty sure I was immune to that sort of thing. I think my thought process went something like this: “I hate guns and weapons of any kind. They are only used to do evil. If I learned anything about them I would be legitimizing (or at least recognizing) their power and influence in the world, and I just don’t think they should have any power or influence in the first place!”
Not much has changed. I do think weapons are used in entirely the wrong ways. I’m not even sure if there are “right” ways to use weapons, except perhaps for food gathering, with which I really don’t have a problem. Unless animals are endangered and unless they are domesticated, I believe the circle of life does need to continue. I respect vegans and vegetarians, but I am not one, and I don’t have a problem with killing game.
I’m still struggling with my own hypocrisy, but I think I have it somewhat figured out: Learning how to operate and be safe around guns is not wrong. In fact, in some cases I think it’s necessary, and I think that to not learn proper weapon procedures can be ignorant and foolish.
Long story short: because I have a couple friends who are equipped and well-learned in this area, I decided to spend a day under their tutelage. I fired more guns today than I thought was possible and learned more than I’d ever cared to know. But I cared to know it today.
It was odd, though. I’ve spent so long treating guns and people who shoot them as despicable, heartless bastards that it was incredibly difficult to amend that preconception. When I was watching my friends, and the moment I was attached to a gun, the entire process was fascinating to me. I asked questions and genuinely tried to get the hang of each model. I didn’t even mind when the recoil on one nearly put my eye out (alright, so I took secret pleasure in it). I was having so much fun. But as soon as I glanced over at the other people at the range, in their proper stances and with their hands wrapped around the cold metal I was coming to know so well, I could feel myself get angry. For what were they practicing? Were they also right-wing conservatives related to Sarah Palin? How many endangered animals had they killed?
Nevermind the fact that here it was, my first time at a range, on pretty much my first time even holding a gun– I was just entirely convinced that my friends and I were the only ones there with the right mindset about shooting. We were the only ones treating it as a sport, and nothing more.
And then I realized: I was everything that I detest about the “typical gun-owner.” He is male. He is a Republican. He is a military veteran or a military hopeful. He has killed not only game, but also his once-in-a-lifetime moose and bear. He has rugs in his house made out of their hides and several stuffed and mounted heads. He has probably even shot at a fellow human being. But most of all, the gun owner is suspicious and paranoid. He sleeps with a pistol under his pillow, just on the off chance that he needs to protect his wife (because of course, she will need to be defended by her husband). He trusts no one, and categorizes people in terms like “hippie,” “terrorist,” and “fellow Christian.”
Maybe it wasn’t the weapons I hated, but the stereotypical weapon users. Had I become one of them in such a short time? I assumed the worst of those other people at the range. I assumed the best of my friends. And I was the purest of them all.
You need to have a little bit of anger in you, I think, to be able to fire a gun. There is nothing wrong with a healthy amount of anger. And yet, your target can’t be a mental image of a human face.
You have to be extremely cautious when handling a weapon. And yet, at some point you have to actually point it at something and shoot.
You have to be a little carefree to be able to shoot. If you try to think of all the moral implications of what you’re doing at once, you’ll put much more than your eye out. You’ll go crazy. And yet, you have to be very conscious of what is going on with yourself psychologically.
Most of all, if you feel like you have to attack anything, attack your own beliefs, your own comfort zone, and your own insecurities. We’re not always forced to do so unless we’re put in a slightly compromising (or heart pumping) scenario like we encounter when traveling. Sometimes we have to make our own hurdles by confronting something we thought was pretty stagnant and challenging it.
Not that I’m in a position to give advice, but here is my last piece of it anyway: make new friends. I hadn’t done so in a l-o-n-g time, but this year it has exposed me to some incredible people and their amazing minds, talents, and humor.
When you’re home, friends can challenge you to be or do something you never thought possible. When you’re traveling, friends can make you feel like you’re home.
Thanks for reading.