Travel has played a pivotal role in my life, opening my eyes to both the beauties and challenges in the world and bursting the bubble of my comfort zone. I can think of no better example of how travel can radically transform your outlook on life than my many visits to Mexico City to spend time with my wife’s family.
I’ve been married to my wife, Belinda, for 11 years, and in that time, we’ve spent many joyous Christmases with her mother, twin brother (Emilio), and grandmother—who is now 100 years old and still full of spirit and energy. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our holiday traditions, as it did for so many. So when we got our vaccines and found out how to visit Mexico this past summer, we jumped at the opportunity to go.
With our negative COVID-19 test results, passports, and overpacked luggage in hand, we landed in Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport at 1:00 in the morning, made our way through customs, and eventually got to the passenger pickup area. Belinda’s mom had kept our visit a secret from Emilio as a kind of birthday present—their birthday was the day after our arrival. Expecting to pick up one of his uncles, Emilio was stunned when we walked out instead. I’ll never forget the tears of joy streaming down my mother-in-law’s face and the look of astonishment on Emilio’s. It’s a moment I will carry with me forever as a reminder of the power of both family and travel.
After the hugs and heartfelt greetings, we got in Emilio’s car and headed to the family home, in the northwest part of the city. It was all Spanish from that point on for me, and I could almost feel my brain making the slow transition in language. From billboards flashing by outside the car window to the radio announcer to the conversation in the car, the comfort zone of “my” language quickly dissipated. And despite my choppy, sometimes incoherent Spanish, I’m so glad to have been able to have conversations over the years with members of my wife’s family who only speak Spanish.
During this recent visit, my wife’s grandmother spoke with me about the importance of accepting God’s will, no matter how hard it might be in the moment. Indeed, at 100 years of age, she doesn’t speak from any lack of experience! And sadly, she knows all too well—and recently—about stepping aside and letting God chart the course. Her oldest son, Arturo, an intellectually curious person whom I enjoyed many illuminating conversations with, had passed away from COVID-19 this past January. Tears welled up in her wise eyes as she described how difficult it was to lose Arturo, not even being able to say goodbye.
We said a short prayer, just she and I, as Belinda and her mom were out shopping in the market that afternoon. And despite the sadness at the source of our prayer, it was a small but profound blessing to share that moment with a person who has seen so much—perhaps too much—of the fragile beauty of life and the preciousness of our time here.
Travel and the gift of an expanded family that comes with marriage have stretched and enriched my soul. In this month when a whole day is dedicated to giving thanks, I think a prayer of gratitude to God for the opportunity to explore our wonderful world is in order.