At Travelers’ Tales we talk about “the gift of travel,” in fact we’ve even got a book by that name, but as we scurry around in this season of gift-giving, it’s easy for the process to become mindless, all about objects and obligations, and not the spirit of giving. For the Christians among us, the tradition was begun by gift-bearing travelers—the three Magi who came to visit the Christ boy just born in Bethlehem. I like to think of them as good models for modern travelers roaming the world. What do you bring to others when you travel? The Magi were bringing tokens of respect for the avatar in the manger, but the things they carried were but symbols for their own attentive spirits, their reverence for life and the presence of divinity in their midst.
Which is perhaps a roundabout way of introducing a recent experience in which I went to Nepal to visit Chomolungma, the Tibetan name for Mt. Everest, which means “Goddess Mother Earth.” I wasn’t bringing much to the goddess besides my willingness to suffer a bit to get there, but the rewards were much more than a vision of the great mountain, though that certainly was wonderful. No, the real gift of this visit to the Himalayas was meeting the Sherpas who walked with me and my old friend Larry Habegger, and the Nepalis, trekkers, and Tibetans we met along the way. But especially three Sherpas—Long Tenzing Sherpa, Lhakpa Sherpa, and Kanchha Sherpa. These guys gave me more than they will ever know: present in themselves as princes among men, cheerful, strong, wise, gentle, hard-working, and funny. I am still steeped in the gift of knowing them and being among them, more aware now back home of the many gifts around me in the form of family, friends, and kind strangers.
The common Nepali greeting is an old Sanskrit word, “namaste,” whose original meaning can be loosely rendered “I bow to the divine within you.” Isn’t that the best gift of all, one you can give every day to friends, family, and strangers alike? To honor each other’s spirit and the creator, and to bring the best of yourself to each person you meet? Not a bad New Year’s resolution either.
Namaste and Merry Christmas!
About James’s Corner:
James O’Reilly is the publisher and series editor of Travelers’ Tales. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Palo Alto, CA, where they also publish children’s art games at Birdcage Books.