Sadly, I am not a well-traveled person. I’ve been overseas just a handful of times, always on trips with my church, so none of them were true vacations. We went to those places to do work and, for the most part, that’s what we did during our waking hours.
One day, when I’m old and rich, I figure I’ll revisit some of those places just to go.
But a handful of things happened over the past few weeks that remind me the Earth isn’t as big a place as we think.
Ironically, one instance involved an Instagram photo in which the subject sat alone on a rock overlooking an ocean. The person in the picture lamented that they were but one small person in such a large world.
That idea fit with the photo of the vast ocean behind the writer, but I couldn’t help but think how easy it is, these days, to board a plane and in several hours end up in a completely different place on this Earth.
The other thing that occurred involved several trips to Raleigh-Durham Airport to greet incoming Rotary Youth Exchange students and bid farewell to students we are sending off to the far corners of the Earth for the next 10 months.
There are five students spending this school year in the greater Triangle and they got on planes in places like Argentina, France, Belgium, Brazil and Japan so they could come to North Carolina for the better part of a year and experience what it’s like to live as an American teenager.
During one trip to the airport, we stood at the gate watching the deplaning passengers and looking for our student. A woman walked up and, seeing our signs with the Rotary logo on them, stopped to speak. Turns out, she had been a Rotary exchange student nearly 30 years ago.
The signs, she said, just brought all the memories of her exchange in Germany flooding back to her. She was in Germany in 1989. Historians reading this will remember that as the year the Berlin Wall came down.
Even in an airport, you can meet a stranger and realize the world isn’t that big when you share a common experience.
Third on my list of interesting experiences was a report I listened to on NPR about this new planet scientists believe they have discovered near a star called Proximus Centauri.
This planet, scientists surmise, could be similar to Earth. And, it’s close to us, in stellar terms. It’s only 4.2 light years away.
“Sounds cool,” I thought. My daughter explained to me that a light year is the distance light can travel in a year. That would be about 6 trillion miles, for those of you who forgot your 12th-grade physics.
So this planet is more than 24 trillion miles away.
I was crushed by that news at first, but listening to the interview with this scientist, I could tell he was stoked. We can get there, he said. But he said it would take about 10,000 years for a rocket to travel there.
Again, I was disappointed. I’m figuring my ticket on Earth will expire in less than 10,000 years. But then he got excited again.
Turns out there are some smart people out there trying to figure out how to get there a little quicker, as in 20 years.
I bet if they set some NASCAR engineers to solving that problem, they could figure out a way to make a lap around the planet in sub-50 seconds.
So now, I’m excited. If I play my cards right, I could still be here in 20 years and I could read the headlines about how we made it to a planet in the solar system next door.
After all, it’s not as big a world out there as we thought.