Remember Andrea Palpant? She was the winner of The Spokesman-Review’s Trip of a Lifetime contest, co-sponsored by Parade magazine. In April, she traveled with dozens of other winners from the United States to England. She found something unexpected there: herself.
The Thames River weaves through fog that hovers over London. There I saw red uniformed soldiers march like a toy army for the queen in front of Buckingham Palace. I touched icy marble that crushes down upon the bones of William Shakespeare at Stratford and felt the granite tomb of Isaac Newton in Westminster Abby.
I climbed 347 steps above St. Paul’s Cathedral to hear our hollow voices ricochet with shadows around the dome of the Whispering Gallery, haunted by the breath of old voices creeping in the withered murals. It was inspiring to walk the cobbled roads of history, to touch its fortresses, to breathe its dungeons. But I discovered more than vaulted cathedrals and rusted grave stones.
I crossed the Atlantic Ocean and moved like all other tourists through Europe. Swallowed in a metropolitan city, I rushed with 120 American students down the throbbing streets of London with a fanny pack jostling at my hips. I explored Covent Castle and imagined I was the queen, swooping my ball gown down the grand hallways draped with faded tapestries and dangled with crystal chandeliers.
We stood under stone arches and saw mold-green water lag in the Roman Baths and creaked across wooden floors where Shakespeare toddled as a child. I trailed my fingers down the walls of mortar where he learned to scribble his name.
The towers we saw spiraling to the sky swept my breath away, and the steps winding into the murky catacombs made me swallow deep, but it was only for a moment. Europe did not need me.
I went rushing over, as if the queen of England had invited me to tea, only to find what I seek is not bought in Herrod’s tourist shop or buried with the ashes of Queen Elizabeth in England. It’s not even framed in a Kodak moment.
Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” The green, billowing hills of England, scattered with sheep and laced with fog, painted a new landscape for my eyes. But my heart found what I was looking for back here in Spokane, when I lugged my Samsonite suitcase up the ramp out of the Delta 747 and saw my family.
I found it when I ran into an old friend at Albertsons, and when I tackled my big brother at the door. I even found it in that shy girl who smiled back at me in the hall.
I discovered it in a good laugh about the meat loaf I burned, and a bike ride down the Centennial Trail to sit on the windy sage bluffs about the big Spokane River and talk with a close friend about life.
I went to Europe, but the rock walls and castles built of stone are crumbling in my mind. Only the breath of old England still haunts me.
The voices of its sages whisper behind the wet colors as I brush and smear and repaint the mural of my life on the plain canvas of every day.
My name may never be found in the record books for discovering that the world is round, but I can inscribe it on the hearts of those around me and carve my initials in the giving trees that I plant during my life.