For my birthday two Januarys ago, among other nice presents, my wife gave me a small globe to keep near my desk. The world globe included a packet of push pins to mark spots I’d visited. It was a way to think about places I’d been, places I’d like to go.
Travel was on our minds back then because we’d just taken a silver anniversary trip to England and France. My birthday globe was a sweet way to wish me other trips just as eventful and happy. I took the globe to my office and dotted it with a few pins to highlight past destinations.
Then the pandemic hit. The globe stayed behind in an office suddenly shuttered by the contagion. Its exile seemed a grim metaphor for what we were going through. In the interest of public health, people around the planet were being asked to put some distance between themselves and the world.
I’m now back in the office most days, and the little globe greets me like an old friend. Looking up from my keyboard, I can see tiny pins planted on Alaska, where I’ve visited a friend, and Canada, commemorating a trip to Vancouver some years ago. Pins stand here and there across America, and a couple rest in Europe. I’ve started to think about where the next pins might go.
Last month, my wife and I filled out paperwork to renew our passports. We’re not ready to travel yet, and other obligations could delay big trips a few years.
For us, though, renewing our passports felt good, even if it was only a gesture. Completing the applications helped us think about a future in which the world is more normal.
At the neighborhood mail center where I brought our applications for delivery, a cashier told me we were far from alone in thinking about passports. An increasing number of other customers, she said, were also bringing in passport applications, though they had no particular trip in mind. They, too, were trying to plant possibilities — to think of something brighter than infection rates and vaccine supplies.
I don’t grieve about being grounded by the pandemic. At its best, our strange form of house arrest brought possibilities of its own. “Perhaps there will be some windfall of wisdom in our politics and personal lives if we use this time apart from each other to think a bit more deeply about who we are and where we’re going,” I wrote in the early days of last year’s lockdown.
Wisdom still seems a scarce commodity in the public square, but I can’t think the forced isolation has been entirely bad. In an odd paradox, being apart has reminded us how connected we all are.
The world is, indeed, smaller than we once thought. Or so I think to myself these days, looking at my office globe and dreaming about cities an ocean away.