A tap on my shoulder. “Take a selfie” my sister says as she hands me Tyler’s camera. In the front of the bus our brother is sleeping away, unaware that his camera has been confiscated. I gladly continue the prank and pass it along. Joy lights up the faces of each family member as they partake in this harmless act, for they know how it will brighten his day when he discovers the photos. A few minutes later our heads all turn in excitement as we see the Croatian coastline for the first time. Our next destination. Our next adventure. Our next home away from home.
As I glanced around at these friends who’ve become family and then back to the sea I realized how truly excited I was to travel again. The previous few weeks were spent at the castle, which I didn’t want to leave because I was comfortable with life and who we had become there. Our focus was turned from sightseeing and adventures to rest and community. It’s so easy to get distracted by everything we’re experiencing when we’re traveling that it was nice to have that time to dig deeper into the group and explore what doing life together means. So I wasn’t sure what would happen to our community when we left that peaceful sanctuary. However as we looked out to Croatia it dawned on me that it wasn’t the turning of my head that caused an increase of thrill and delight within me, it was a turning of everyone’s heads. What would have been before simply a neat new location was now a shared experience.
We are relational beings. I find it amazing and beautiful how much more meaning something has when you share it with someone else. That’s what makes a trip like this so incredible. We have the opportunity to deeply bond with each other and form a group identity through traveling. And not only that, but we get to study it! As we are all communication majors learning about group communication, the dynamics of these 25 individuals traveling together is the center of many of our conversations. And through our lessons and discussions I’ve come to appreciate the unique environment and community that this trip creates. While some people are more comfortable doing life alone I believe everyone has experienced that greater depth that comes from having a friend see, hear, and feel the same thing as you. It’s how we connect; we do things together. Consequently, it can be difficult to connect to the culture and what you’re seeing when you’re not connected with those you’re traveling with. After all, what’s the point in traveling and having amazing experiences when you don’t have someone to share it with? We might all see and do the same things, but we’ll be far more impacted when we open up and process with each other.
So as the trip has progressed and I’ve gotten to know my companions more, the depth of my experiences has increased. One of the first times I realized this was at a restaurant our first night in Poland. It was the start of Oktober Fest so there was loud music, drinking songs, and lots of dancing. It didn’t take long for a few of us to convince the rest of us to join the crowds on the floor. I loved dancing, not because it was a great cultural experience, but because I got to connect with others in our group and be myself while letting loose to some Polka music. Similar to what happened on the bus to Croatia, it was impactful because of who I was with, not because of what I was doing.
Some of my favorite memories on the trip thus far have been playing signs in the tower (our favorite game), singing worship songs with everyone on the dock, relaxing in the fire room, and affirming each other our last night. Yet I have to remember that the bond I felt in those moments came from eating together, having class together, and learning from Bonhoeffer together. Through these deep experiences, as well as one-on-one conversations, we’ve increased not just in our knowledge but also our understanding of one another. I feel known, and that won’t change simply because we’ve left the castle. The community we’re in has been acknowledged, established, and developed. What we do does not determine who we are. The depth of our experiences is due to our shared faith in God and our growing relationships, not circumstances. As Bonhoeffer explained in “Life Together”, which we read for class, “it is not the experience of Christian brotherhood, but solid and certain faith in brotherhood that holds us together”. Both through need and choice we’ve grown in trust, understanding, and love. It’s brought so much joy to my heart to watch Him work in our group, for He knows what we need. While it’s easy to dwell on how He blessed our time at the castle, that was just the beginning of how He’s going to use Christian community in all of our lives.
I hope we never stop passing the camera. The view outside of the window may change, but I pray that we continue to share our experiences, joy, and lives together. For when we do we realize that there’s greater lessons to be learned and memories to be made together. I’m thankful for how I’ve grown on my own, but I’ve loved connecting on a deeper level to what we see and do through processing within relationships, which has drawn us closer as a family. I’ve definitely felt a deeper bond and a stronger community mindset in the last month, despite our crazy travel schedule around Croatia, Italy, Switzerland and France. And now looking back I don’t know why I was worreid about leaving the castle, for we are not individuals traveling alone.