‘If you want to change the world, you must first let the world change you.’ – Ernesto Guevara
We got off to a good start today, with Andy making bacon and eggs for us before sending us on our way. We rode through familiar terrain, down across the Connecticut border on the Northampton-New Haven Greenway, and before I knew it, we were riding trails that we had ridden in training for the trip, through Granby and Simsbury. A detour through Collinsville led to a ride along the Farmington river, where I appreciated the beautiful, well-maintained trails that we have right here near school. We took one final break at Truffles to collect ourselves, and with that, headed the three miles to the campus in anticipation of what was to come. Pulling up the final few hundred feet, I caught myself from getting choked up seeing everyone standing at the school entrance, and in a blur of excitement entered into the surreal moment of meshing our two different realities once again, of cycle touring and medical school, in a new light than when we had left. There were high fives, hugs, and photographs, and I once again was left with a continued sense of humility for the generosity of friends, family, classmates, teachers and the larger UConn community who came out to welcome us home.
Sonali and I each spent the night with our respective parents, before our final day to the coast and I found it strange to be sitting in my home, on my porch eating dinner with my family, my final ‘warm shower’s’ hosts, as if nothing that had just happened had just happened, so normal did it feel. I feel as though I will soon be transitioning back mentally into many of my old habits and rhythms, but before this moment passes me by, I’d like to catch it in its full fruition, and pick it like a ripe fruit before it drops.
Ernesto Guevara once said, ‘if you want to change the world, you must first let the world change you’, and in hearing that phrase several years ago, it has stayed with me and become a bit of a motto that I return to from time to time. In deciding to initially go on this trip, at this junction in my life, this idea stood out to me, that before I was to enter into a position in society such as that which a physician holds, before I offer my own advice or give my own opinions, perhaps it would be best to start by listening to my countrymen, by being open to what the world has to teach in many forms, to take the pulse of a country and culture that I will someday soon have a say in.
Over the past two months, we have been open to many stories and histories of the human and natural worlds alike. We have learned about many things, gold mining and fossils, manufacturing and cheese curds, bridges and rock and roll, bicycles, yes, bicycles, women’s suffrage, wine making, etc., and continually learned about human interaction, interpersonal dynamics and group decision making.
Over the past two months, sitting at innumerable dining room tables, breaking bread with an endless number of honest strangers, being treated like kin, my faith in the decency and generosity of my fellow man has been strengthened. I got the sense that people want to get along, that they want to have good, strong communities, that they want to avoid conflict and appease their friends and family. I also got the sense that people sometimes are willing to talk poorly about groups of others whom they have little experience with, whom they fear or are willing to project characterizations upon, in a way that I think they would struggle to treat as poorly if they interacted with one-on-one in person, as they interact with us, equally strangers into their world, and yet, as fellow human beings, intricately connected in a shared human experience.
One of our warm showers hosts in Ohio had given me a flag along the way, and although I kept it with me throughout the trip, I did not hang it up on the back of my bicycle, because I felt that perhaps it was too complicated a metaphor at this current moment in time, that what it means to me might be different than what it means to someone else, and that meaning might be different from a third person along the way.
So, rather than focus on a symbol itself, holding up a flag and saying, this is what it stands for, in a constant struggle to define and defend the metaphors we hold on to, I’d like to focus on the meaning itself, define a vision that offers the energy of human potential something to coalesce around.
I am neither a luddite nor a futurist, and would rather mark myself among the ranks of men who are in search of the timeless, that those things that have already shown their unending value are not taken for granted or treated as foundational relics to be built upon in a blind search for progress for its own sake, and that those things that are new and novel are judged only as they can stand the test of time.
There is an America I can imagine where each place of human habitation reflects of its underlying form, be it as thin as moss upon a glacial stone, or as rich as the sediment upon a Mississippi river floodplain.
There is an America I can imagine where the wealth of a nation is measured in the diversity of its plants and people, its living riches valued more than the shine of its precious metals.
There is an America I can imagine where the economy functions as a tool to meet the needs of a people, and the people do not work as tools to fit the needs of an economy.
There is an America I can imagine where we have a Native American President
There is an America I can imagine where a woman can walk down the street without having to accept harassment from a passing stranger.
There is an America I can imagine where the soil grows deeper over time.
There is an America I can imagine, where all of the noble beasts in their majestic ruminations migrate in accordance with the ripe and falling fodder, where men are not farmers of animals nor plants nor any singular element alone, but rather are orchestrators of forests, conductors of life largely singing of its own accord, according to the cyclic changing seasons, where the intervention of man is the bending of a branch of the world in our favor, freed from the simplistic visions of our own ability to create and control the world we want by ourselves, but instead accepting in equal parts a continual discovery of what the world has to offer, and only in doing so coming to fully understand ourselves.