Riding the commuter train home to San Francisco from Palo Alto the other day I began thinking about the lure of the wide world, and how eager I was to set out from home when I got out of college many years ago. I wanted to discover foreign lands and meet new people, including myself, but looking back on those days from today’s train window I realized how conflicted I am, we all are, with the tension between moving out and turning in. That is, the inescapable pull to explore the world and make new discoveries and the desire to have a rich, engaged home life with generations of family around you seem almost polar opposites in our modern world.
This came to me because the day before I had returned from a funeral in Minnesota to bury my favorite aunt, my mother’s sister Dorothy. She had been a fixture of optimism, humor, and love throughout my life, and although I had seen her just about annually the last ten or fifteen years, there were many years I was long gone. I settled in San Francisco without much thought about leaving my family in the Midwest, and the longer I was there the less Minnesota felt like home. But my extended family remained, and while it’s a cliché to say that I didn’t realize what I’d lost until she was gone, it’s true. In my desire to explore the world I left behind parts of my family, and my self, that were dear to me, and while I know many countries now all over the world, and many people within those foreign lands that are no longer so foreign, I miss the easy access to relatives I would have had if I’d stayed.
This is everyone’s dilemma, part of life. But as the train rolled on toward San Francisco, I missed her, and the fun I could have had if I’d seen her more often.
Larry Habegger is a writer, editor, journalist, and teacher who has been covering the world since his international travels began in the 1970s. A freelance writer for more than two decades and syndicated columnist since 1985, he has written for many major newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Travel & Leisure, and Outside. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and in 1993 founded the award-winning Travelers’ Tales books with James and Tim O’Reilly. He has worked on all of the company’s more than 80 titles and is currently executive editor. Larry’s safety and security column, World Travel Watch, has appeared in newspapers in five countries and on internet sites, including WorldTravelWatch.com. He regularly teaches the craft of personal travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family in San Francisco.