Travelers in Paradise
A Barista Expounds from Other Side of Counter

September 4th, 2013
by Eric Johnson

[private]Living on a “Paradise Island” provides an interesting view of global society. Here it streams by in an endless sea of faces. Some stay for a while and some that move on quickly. How the more permanent residents view them is equally interesting.

Most of the travelers seem to be trying to satisfy some deep internal “itch.” Some seem to travel for the sake of traveling. Some may be described as seekers. Some are givers, many are takers. They are categorized as back packers, tourists, travelers or sojourners. The view from behind the counter as they come and go is always interesting as I try to read the faces, clothing styles and even tattoos that the wearers use to define themselves when how they act defines them better.

Photo by Eric Johnson

Photo by Eric Johnson

Oddly, nearly all seem to be in avoidance mode of deeper conversation or relationship. There appears to be a deep-seated resistance to openness about themselves or to ask, “Who am I and where or how do I fit into this world of which I am either escaping or fitting in?” On my side of the counter I am tempted to fall into a similar trap of viewing all comers as a blur of humanity. So I ask, how is it that we break the cycle of the lack of commitment to relationship and avoid the temptation of only seeking to satisfy ourselves because caring about someone that is leaving tomorrow isn’t worth the emotional investment and possible pain of separation?

There are articles written about foster children that have been to multiple homes and have developed the coping mechanism described as a type of attachment disorder  –  fear of real relationship because people that truly know us also know all the ugly and usually painful bits that we all have inside. On the flip side, if we do form a deeper relationship, we will have to deal with the inevitably painful separation. The coping mechanism is an arm’s-length mentality toward relationships, a failure to truly engage. The truth is that deep relationship affects and changes us to some degree.  Change and self-discovery can be painful, so we often avoid it. We become escapists.

We are all, to some degree, living with an escapist mentality. We can use mind-altering chemicals, alcohol, sex or, yes, even travel to avoid the possibility of facing ourselves or getting involved in someone else’s messy bits. As travelers we can construct a temporary persona and convey only that romanticized, ideal portrait of ourselves in passing relationships. When we linger, the façade will fade, and our true colors can sneak out. So we protect our “space” and put on the self-constructed mask.

The challenge, whether traveling on or staying, is to be open to experience others deeply; to be affected deeply; to effect deeply; and to just perhaps be changed … deeply.

Shakespeare said, “The traveler never returns.” I have to have the discipline to take the risk and set self-indulgence and mind-dulling aside for a short while, take a deep breath and focus on the mirror of deeper relationship, perhaps sit at the knee of some older person and ask questions, feel the hot wind and cold rain in all its intensity and be willing to discover truth and ultimately be changed. Then I will have traveled and not returned![/private]


Eric Johnson works behind the counter at the Rio Coco coffee shop on Utila.

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