Sunday, April 15, 2012

Night view of the Menin Gate: Ieper, Belgium (Ypres)

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When my plane landed in Brussels I was dazed from lack of sleep. I'd had only a few hours sleep in the last couple of days, having worked late into the night on Thursday and then pulled an all-nighter on Friday to get everything written and filed before my 6 a.m. departure Saturday morning.

Most people would have buckled up their seat belts and slept during the flight, but I have some kind of airplane insomnia. I find it almost impossible to sleep on a plane. Besides, we flew over so much unsettled weather (tornadoes across the Midwest) the flight was too bumpy to rest easy. Much of the time the flight attendants were sent by the pilot back to their own seats and the seat belt light was seldom off.

At any rate, my plane landed and my train from Brussels arrived in Ypres exactly on time. After lunch and a long nap, I set out to explore.

As I walked up and down the narrow streets near the marketplace, I thought about what drives us to go and see and explore. About what compels us to endure crowded, bumpy flights, the grating security annoyances and the harsh physical effects of long-distance travel. But when I turned a corner and caught sight of the Menin Gate I realized again that the answer, as is so often the case, was right in front of me.

We go because there are places and people and experiences that tell the flawed and all-too-human story of our loves and losses, our hard-won battles and bone-crushing defeats. Because there is nothing as powerful as standing in a place you've only read about before.

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