You know, it’s funny how the experience of parenthood shrinks your world. The carefree days of long haul travel seem light years behind me. Local is the new global. For a worldly soul, this is a juxtaposition that can be challenging one day and invigorating the next.
The idea of a small world was something I was born into. Being part of a multicultural family that had experienced both emigration and immigration, I seemed adept at embracing cultures that felt strange or even threatening to others. Nothing or no one seemed strange to me. Even my shyness did not prevent me from immersing myself effortlessly in other cultures. The evils of bigotry and racism were always beyond my comprehension; each capable of sickening me, quite literally. It was interesting to view the world though this kaleidoscopic lens. Whilst innocence and naivety may have accounted for this as a child, this inter cultural awareness helped me develop tolerance for others that has endured to this day.
“It’s a small world” my mother would say, on meeting a stranger or a mutual friend for the first time. This was a time before Facebook and other algorithms computed what we have always known. That through seven different people, we can know the world entire, in all its flesh and blood. Of course, It wasn’t just the words that struck me. It was the manner in which those words were conveyed, for they reflected my mother’s joy in relating to and connecting with others, regardless of their background. Cultural barriers simply did not make up any part of her psyche. And in these meetings, I sensed that those she met, felt her warmth and sincerity. Looking back, it reinforces something that confronts us daily. That a stranger is a friend we have not yet met. It is a refreshing thought at a time when so many parents experience anxiety over the safety of their children. The streets not being the playgrounds they once were. Not to mention the sinister elements that inhabit the cyber shadow lands. The media’s obsession with the dark side has, I think, served to cramp the style of those otherwise gifted in the art of relationship building.
On the brighter and more expansive side, the emergence of the public internet was a revelation to me as a young man. As an inquisitive student, the global village enabled me to interact with and learn about the world. And all from the comfort of a desktop. It reinforced by experience of childhood. That the world was indeed small and that regional and international boundaries could be traversed with ease. It wasn’t that the world was lacking in physical dimension and complexity. Those journeys into other worlds, either real or imagined, energised me. They somehow galvanised my very existence.
Fast forward down the information superhighway of life and the world is now a very different place. It is shrinking in ways that I find disturbing. As a parent and global citizen, I am all too aware that depletion of the world’s resources is threatening the very eco systems that have enabled humanity to thrive. The threats posed by climate change will grow in severity and frequency as today’s children advance towards middle age and mid century.
Of course, it’s not just the green hue and depth of my conscience that limits how and when I travel. It’s also the depth of my pockets. Thus far, they have failed to escape the clutches of austerity. And there is the overriding imperative to meet basic needs and take life easy. Even the free spirits of this world can be brought back down to earth by the needs of their children. Peer inward, into space, or into the future for just a few moments and your offspring soon ground you. They keep me centred. They keep me close to home, regardless of any aspirations. Moreover, my children are deeply entwined in those aspirations.
Amongst the many silver linings is the rediscovery of my adopted city and county and the beautiful environs it nestles in. ‘Staycations’ and days out in the country have helped me develop an intimate knowledge of Gloucestershire. Perhaps it has equipped me with something that is beyond the grasp of the better heeled; the better travelled; and the native who kindly shares this place with me and his ancestors.
So becoming a parent has not made me any less or more worldly. By remaining open to new people, new situations and, yes, new technology; my horizons have been expanded in a way that does not burn a hole in my pocket, nor the biosphere that nourishes me, my children and the seven billion other souls. It has also awakened me to the true meaning of community. Ex patriots and the jet set may take their passports and their worlds with them. But if they cannot assimilate other cultures and languages, what are they bringing back apart from a few memories? So what of this poorer, simpler existence? I’ll tell you. A life based on an open mind and a warm heart is a life where the world comes to you. It’s a world that comes to me. It’s home.
28th September, 2013