Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. – Psalm 39:12
I recently had the chance to visit the beautiful Central American country of Costa Rica. This framed picture, situated directly above the toilet, was a fixture in the bathroom of our hotel room. What this lovely, effusive phrase is saying, in the exquisitely polite, endearingly indirect, Costa Rican way, is to deposit all toilet paper in the trash can after use, rather than flushing it down the toilet.
Yes, it was a reminder that Costa Rica is a developing country. Their sewer systems cannot handle toilet paper. So, in a bathroom that featured granite and marble surfaces, boutique shampoos and soaps, and modern fixtures, the toilet paper was deposited in the wastebasket, instead of the toilet.
It was a good reminder that I was a guest, a sojourner in the country. I was there to look around and learn as much as I could about the local food, culture, flora, and fauna as possible in one week.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did not run while in Costa Rica. The two running choices were the hot, sun-blasted beach (the temperature never went below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night) or the road with no shoulder and aggressive drivers.
In Costa Rica, there are separate police forces to deal with traffic, crime, customs, etc. The traffic police were nowhere in evidence and traveling on the roads was like something out of the wild, wild west – every man for himself. The driving situation did not engender confidence in my ability to negotiate a run without incident. I decided to forego running until I returned to Pennsylvania.
When I got home, though, my subsequent (pain-free, yay!) runs gave me the opportunity to think about the concept of being a tourist.
A baby has a way of examining every situation that is completely forthright and entirely without guile. A baby will look around, wobbling his too-big head on top of his neck, directing his gaze at everything that catches his interest.
He has the air of someone who is intent on learning the lay of the land, touching everything he can get his hands on and looking at objects with curiosity and intent.
It is almost as though he knows he is going to be here for a while, so he may as well make himself at home. We live the first years of our lives acquiring knowledge, soaking it all in, figuring out how things work, and mastering the skills needed to live in this world. Babies are the ultimate tourists.
The word “tourist” carries with it the connotation of naivete, of someone who is somewhat unaware, a guest, rather than a resident. We may shun the label of “tourist” and the lack of sophistication that label suggests. I believe, however, the refreshing spirit of humility and curiosity implied by the term should be cherished and protected. We are, all of us, “sojourners in a foreign land“.
At some point along the way, as we grow up, we become comfortable. We know our way around and act like we own the place. The spirit of inquiry gradually diminishes. Somehow, we make the transition from tourists to squatters. We take on an air of completely unwarranted hubris.
One evening, while in Costa Rica, my hubby Bill and I were sitting at a bar, waiting to have dinner at a local restaurant. As we chatted with the bartender, a man, obviously a resident of the United States, approached. He summoned a bartender and asked loudly if the bar stocked a hard-to-come-by and expensive type of liquor, seemingly expecting a negative reply.
When the bartender assured the man the liquor was, indeed available, rather than being grateful or pleasantly surprised, the irritated man responded by asking if they stocked a lot of the liquor, because, apparently, he planned to consume vast quantities.
Another American couple we talked to, who were returning to Costa Rica for the second time, warned us of the persistent vendors plying their wares on the beach in Tamarindo, the town where we stayed. The couple was excited about visiting a new Walmart, constructed since their last visit.
The beach vendors were selling beautiful handmade pottery, carved wood bowls, and palm frond baskets hand-woven on the spot. They did approach potential buyers, but if you were uninterested, a polite “No, gracias” would send them on their way. Walmart sells…well, you know what Walmart sells.
It makes me wonder, have we forgotten how to be an appreciative guest? One who has cultivated an attitude of gratitude and humility, who is curious about his host’s gracious offerings? I ask these questions not only for those who visit other locations, other countries, but also for all of us here visiting on this good, green earth. We are all guests; we are tourists, as were all of those who came before us.
In a world literally bathed in grace, why are we not more grateful? Some days it is all I can do to not quit my house, pack my bag, and strike out into the wild, beautiful world, in an attempt to see everything there is to see, to marvel at the wonders and be amazed at the astonishing sights. Luckily, Bill tethers me to reality.
We must strive to be good guests – enthusiastic, engaged, and interested in whatever our generous Host offers. Our visit to this earth is brief; we should get out and learn about the neighborhood where we have been set down.
I am glad to be home in Pennsylvania. There is nothing quite like sleeping in my own bed, seeing beloved friends and family, or eating food I have prepared myself.
My hope, however, is to hold onto the spirit of being a “tourist” long after I have returned home. I want to look at the world with the curious, fresh, and unpresuming attitude of a visitor, to appreciate the pennies that rain down from heaven in a never-ending shower, and to cultivate a healthy humility about my place in the world. I want to be a good guest, a tourist in the best sense of the word.
I am linking up with Shank You Very Much for Dream Team and Global Blogging, Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun, Hooks and Dragons for Mix It Up, My Random Musings for Anything Goes, Abounding Grace for Gracefull Tuesday, Kooky Runner for Tuesday Topics, Char at Trekking Thru, Bethere2day for Wordless Wednesday on a Tuesday, and The Ched Curtain for Say Cheese.