This one time at band camp, I got an invitation to go to Europe. Fifteen years ago, in a July as uncomfortably warm as this one, I joined 70-odd high school students in a band called the American Musical Ambassadors. We had a few days of rehearsal in DC before hopping on a plane to Amsterdam, and touring seven countries in 21 days. An exhausting yet exhilarating venture.
When I question my bravery or whether I achieved anything of import, I think back to those three weeks. No tour guide or travel show could have prepared me for the world that lay outside those double doors of Schiphol Airport. Of course, there were the big things -- touring the canals of Amsterdam and Venice, standing in the Austrian throne room of Maria Theresa, viewing a sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower, dodging raindrops in Piccadilly Circus. But the moments that I still treasure from that trip are seemingly small ones. Watching a dubbed episode of "Rescue 911" with our host family in Ede, Holland; dancing to an oompah band in a village in southern Germany; eating the best chocolate cake ever in a riverside cafe in Innsbruck; shopping for lunch in a Swiss grocery store; being within arm's reach of one of my favorite comedians, Jim Sweeney, at a London Improv show. I also got very good at doing laundry in a sink.
I'm so grateful to have had that experience, and I feel sad for people that don't (or won't) take the opportunity to travel. Maybe you don't have that wanderlust. Maybe everything you need in life is right there within your county lines. And if so, I'm incredibly jealous. Because now I always wonder what else is out there. What haven't I seen, who haven't I met, what foods haven't I tasted. As Americans, we should be looking outward and learning from others. Not locking the door, turning off the light and saying "No Vacancy."
The Fourth of July has now come and gone. And it was an enjoyable holiday spent with my sister, her husband and their cat. We watched the specials on TV and the fireworks from their Silver Spring balcony. But as for patriotic moments, there's not much that can beat a summer afternoon fifteen years ago in Paris' Luxembourg Gardens, where French children spun and smiled with contagious joy as our band played "Stars and Stripes." A whole big world in one little gazebo, with liberty and justice for all.