When we first started talking about travel one of the definitions we proposed was “leaving one’s comfort zone.” Taking a step back from this definition, what exactly is a person’s comfort zone? What is it about a place – the people, the environment, the landmarks, the styles, the language – that makes it comfortable for a person? Typically, someone thinks of a place as comfortable it is something known, safe, or somehow connected with that person. Ultimately this is a question of how a person defines him or herself. We are comfortable in a place because we define ourselves as being part of that place. The place has had an active part in shaping us and making us who we are. However, being comfortable in or identifying ourselves with one place doesn’t mean that we can’t leave that place without giving up our former identities. In fact, our lives tend to lead us on a natural progression of continually redefining ourselves. So it seems very natural for a person to desire to travel in search of new ways to define oneself.
In Invisible Cities, Calvino claims that “elsewhere is a negative mirror” where “the traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.” This image gets to the core of what we are meant to learn through traveling and taking on new experiences. By seeing the many things that different places have to offer, a person can truly decide what it is he or she really wants out of life. In new experiences we can find new things to add to our definition of ourselves. We can more clearly define what makes us who we are: our interests, our skills, our style, the people we call our friends, and perhaps most importantly what makes us happy. In On the Road, we see this idea taken to the extreme as the characters travel all over the country in search of new ways to define themselves but can sadly never seem to do so. They are on a constant search for some “IT” for which to live their lives, and struggle to discover whether there is only one thing for every person or an infinite number of possibilities.
Every person comes to the point in their life when they must reexamine who they are and what defines them in order to move on to the next stage. Many of us in this class, myself included, have come to this point in our lives as college seniors. On that note, what defines me? I’m a native of Brooklyn New York, the one place that I will always call home. I’m the younger of two sons. I’m a baby brother. I’m a nephew and an older cousin to many. I’m a former student of Xavier High School (a Son of Xavier) and a current student of Loyola College in Maryland (a member of the last class to graduate from Loyola the college). And I’m on the verge of becoming something new. I’ve defined myself at home and I’ve defined myself here at college and I’ve become comfortable in both places. Now when it comes time to move on to the next stage I can only hope that I will find comfort there as well and successfully add another title to my definition of myself.