Appreciating my freedom (in its absence)

I was supposed to be landing in Barcelona today. Then I was supposed to be heading back to do another 500 mile walk through Spain. Then I was supposed to be in Italy, seeing loved ones. Then I was supposed to be with a friend in a summer house on the Black Sea, outside of Istanbul.

I was supposed to be traveling.

I had a little twinge, of course, but…I don’t feel really sad to be missing it. I’m actually grateful that current circumstances have forced me to finish this HUGE project I’ve been working on for so long, and for everything that has come with this weird, disorienting time. I’ve actually gotten quite oriented.

But I AM taking a moment to miss what I’m not able to do, and to note it. I’m handling it, but it’s not ideal. At least, not according to my plans. And I’m not alone: I mentioned this to a friend, and she said, “I was supposed to be on a cruise ship to Alaska,” and another said she was supposed to be heading to Brazil. Another was imagining himself in Italy, where he was meant to be right now.

Supposed to be; meant to be; longing to be.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy. I’m adding to that happiness by turning my thoughts about what I’m missing into thoughts of gratitude: Gratitude for the extra time to focus on this project, but also for what I am missing: I AM SO GRATEFUL to be as free as I normally am, so grateful for the ability to roam this beautiful world the way I usually do.

Because I will roam again. And so will you.

100 years ago, during the last big global pandemic, most people didn’t go 100 miles away from their homes but a couple of times in their lives. 600 years ago, during the Black Plague, they lived their entire, usually brief, lives within earshot of the church bells they’d heard as a babe.

We are so lucky. We are so free. Even now. Let’s not forget that.

Even compared to my first travel, 40-plus years ago, travel is SO easy now. Money, communications, even language are so much easier. It’s cheaper than ever. There are people who are blaming globalization for this pandemic, but I love globalization, and I will stay global. I will begin traveling as soon as it’s safe, and the Fates willing, I’ll keep traveling till the day I die.

It may be harder again. Many businesses, including airlines, are going to disappear during this time, and while that may be good for the planet, it may make travel harder, or more expensive. Hard to say now. Certainly, there will be fewer people traveling in the near future: They will have less money, and perhaps less sense that travel is safe. In this, as in everything else, we just don’t know. I’m trying to be optimistic that some changes will be good, but I know that others won’t be.

The global travel industry supports many cities, including many in the US. How will San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Miami fare? Paris? Florence? Bangkok? Hard to say. Travel may well go back to the way it was when I began traveling, in the 1970s. The technology will be there, which is still a huge difference, but with fewer people traveling, will the infrastructure hold up?

When I was in Istanbul last, the city had already seen hundreds – as in more than 500 – hotels close after terrorist attacks in the airport there. It crushed a portion of the economy. Half of the hotels in New York are not occupied right now. Will those hotels survive? What will cities with half the hotel capacity they once had be like, once travel begins? What will hostels be like, now that people are wary of being so close to other people? What will dining out within two feet of other people be like in sidewalk cafes in Madrid or Rome?

We don’t know any of the answers to this; some of the answers aren’t going to be what we’d like to hear.

I can’t foresee what is coming. We’re still not even at the peak of the pandemic. All I can do is stay hunkered down, keep working, keep writing, keep doing what I can during these strange, challenging times. I will probably complain from time to time about where I am not. Where I should be. Where I could be.

But I will make the most of this, and when I’m free to roam again, I will make the most of that, too: I will travel with a new appreciation for my ability to do so, and with a new desire to see even MORE of the world. I will travel perhaps more cautiously, but I will travel more broadly still, and deeper, too, with far more awareness of my good luck in being able to do so.

Because even in these difficult times, I am very aware of my good fortune, and grateful for my opportunities. I am taking the opportunity now to just sit here and write, and finish this big project; but soon enough, I will be taking the opportunity to get on a plane and fly off to a new place. I will appreciate that place with a new awareness that the ability to just get up and go is not guaranteed.

That awareness will make my next trip that much more precious. And that’s something worth waiting for.

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Thank you for checking out my blog - it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I am working on projects regarding music history, Japanese culture and my songwriting.

- A week-by-week music history website, music1967.com
- An upcoming book on Japanese culture, Japan from Anime to Zen
- A YouTube channel, featuring random songs and thoughts for the pandemic
- Original music on Spotify, with links to Patreon and Amazon 

David Watts Barton

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