I’m writing this from my bed, which is housed in a charming hybrid tent-chalet, which is nestled in a forest near Udawalawe, which is a town in a beautiful and exotic country named Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon.
The half-light of 5:30 am signals birdsong and scrabbling bugs. It spurs from the temple the day’s first plaintive call to prayer, and from the wild peacocks their eerie, cat-like proclamations.
It’s natural and rustic, and beautiful in its simplicity; and in every way a far cry from the all-inclusive resort hotel where I spent the past week. Here in the forest there are none of a hotel’s amenities: no air con, mini bar, room service or WiFi. No spa, no gym, no smiling groundskeepers to sweep away nature’s wilted overnight casualties. I’ll discover shortly if the shower here has hot water (my strong suspicion is no).
The past week’s busy work agenda was cushioned by considerable comforts that unquestionably made life easier. In terms of conveniences, there was little to think about or yearn for in the midst of all the professional hustle and bustle. That’s what services and stuff are for: to smooth out all the sharp edges.
But when work is done, when I get to put away my suit and heels and swap my wheelie suitcase for my backpack and wander out into the world on my own like this with the bugs and heat and questionable bedding, I am quickly reminded that easier is not always better. The sharp edges are important to have around (and I readily offer that compared to how most of the world’s population lives, these can barely be considered ‘edges’. I was going to throw in a note about how last night’s dinner consisted of little more than instant rice with canned pineapple until I realized what a feast that would be for a hefty percentage of the people I share this planet with. I’m also typing this on a MacBook Air, while an iPhone and a Blackberry sit on the nightstand beside me. I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point. Levels of perceived comfort and hardship are often relative. I can only speak from the extremely advantageous viewpoint of my own first-world reality, with what I hope appears as a good dose of reality checking added in to even things out.)
I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to live a day-to-day life filled with an over-abundance of conveniences; yet with everything always so readily within reach, I also re-discover how quickly the senses can be dulled. In hotels as at home, it is far too easy to confuse nice-to-haves with need-to-haves. We forget how to miss anything; more importantly, we forget that most of the things we think we miss, we don’t need (or sometimes really even want) anyway.
If we don’t have to think, struggle a little, knick ourselves on the sharp edges once in a while, we lose appreciation for the value of suffering. Suffering in whatever degree is a critical need-to-have—because, as with joy, it connects us to the rest of the world and reminds us that we are human.
So, thank you, travel. Thank you, world full of inconveniences great and small, and full of gloriously real people. You give me more than I need and always remind me who I am.
*Update: the “shower” (read: trickle of water running out of the wall) had only one temperature—and it was so scaldingly hot I couldn’t stand under it. The universe never lets me get away with too much complaining.