Joshua Ramo has a beautiful meditation in a recent issue of Newsweek International about the joys of living life at “jet speed”. By calculating his total travel in a year and the total number of hours in that year, he discovers his average speed over the course of a year is roughly 45.8 miles per hour. Rather than being a sign of his alienation and unhappiness, this speed, for Joshua, is an emblem of a life that’s full to bursting with experience, sensation and contact.
I’ve met Joshua a few times – we have friends in common, including Martin Varsavsky, whose blog led me to Joshua’s article. And I have a life that’s generally overflowing with sights, sensations, wonderful people and a huge amount of air travel.
But my average speed is – thankfully – about a third of what Joshua averages. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that, in an odd way, I’m a homebody. For 15 of the past 16 years, I’ve lived in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts and eastern New York. I moved here when I was 16 to attend college, and with the exception of a year living in Accra, have lived here – more or less – ever since.
I spent the morning at Tunnel City Coffee, the social hub of Williamstown, Massachusetts. As I drank two cups of iced coffee over the course of three hours, I traded nods and smiles with two dozen people I’ve known for a years, whether or not I know their names. I catch up with a colleage from Tripod, a professor I took several classes with and one I never studied with but always admired. I check email on the free wifi and listen to faculty grouse about grading papers. The mothers with babies come and go as a pack. The retirees arrive as couples and take over their tables.
Walking up the street to pick up mail at the post office, someone calls my name. It’s Sandra Burton, the chair of the dance department at Williams. For the four years I spent at Williams, she was the director of the dance ensemble I drummed for, my boss as I stage-managed the dance performance space, my professor when I studied African music and dance… and my surrogate parent, helping talk me through the academic, romantic and identity crises that come with being a college student. She reminds me that we haven’t seen each other for almost a year and we hug for a long time, then stand on a street corner and talk for half an hour, about mutual friends, fundraising, trips to Africa, a friend’s death…
The wonder of travelling around the world is that you never know what wonderful person you’re going to meet next. The wonder of being home is that you do.
It’s probably the only time I’ll spend in my hometown for a month or so. And it’s refreshing and rejuvenating as a warm shower and a long sleep after getting off a transpacific flight. I’m glad my average speed is slow enough that I get to enjoy these moments as well as the moments you only get when you’re in motion.