Fueling writer’s wanderlust

Posted Jan. 19, 2010, at 6:11 p.m.

Greetings from Pennsylvania!

I am here working with a homeless community and getting interviews for my new book. It’s tentatively called, “Living in America’s Trashcan.” And like most trashcans, nearly everything is recyclable. I miss Maine, but you know how it is. When we Mainers find meaningful work we’ve got to jump at it.

I went online the other day to see about renewing my expired passport. I love the Internet; like a homeless shelter, it’s full of gems you might never expect to find.

Still the Internet is less like a trashcan and more like a giant library, like the library in Alexandria, Egypt, but conveniently with the Internet you don’t need a passport.

I mention the Alexandria library because I’ve been there. I could have mentioned the Library of Congress, which I’ve also had the good fortune to visit, but I wanted to talk about a library that I couldn’t get to without my passport. And the sort of travel that requires a passport reminds you that the world is really diverse and really small.

If you’re a 10th-grader taking math, Alexandria is important to you because that’s where Euclid devised geometry. If you’re scratching your head wondering why I’m mentioning this, that’s because in Alexandria Herophilus discovered that the brain is where we think. Before that people scratched their chests when they did their thinking.

Even if you think you are the center of the universe, Alexandria resident Aristarchus figured out you’re wrong. He discerned that the Earth revolved around the sun 1,800 years before Copernicus did.

I was there in 2008. I told a woman who had a chance to go to Egypt next month that she should make sure to see the library. Sadly, she said she wouldn’t go because of the whole terrorism thing. Back in 2008 folks thought I should be scared, too. But abating irrational fear is the biggest reason U.S. citizens should travel. For-eign travel teaches us that we’re part of a global community and we don’t need to be more afraid of folks outside our country than we are of the crazy killers inside our country. I wanted to ask the woman who feared foreigners whether she would be similarly afraid to walk on a U.S. college campus where mass killings likewise occur.

That brings me to my final reason for highlighting the library in Alexandria. See, if people hung onto historical hurts instead of embracing the opportunity to co-exist, Christians would be denied access to the volumes contained in what used to be the world’s largest library. In the fourth century historians believe that it was burned to the ground by Christian rulers who said that the library encouraged paganism.

Back to my passport Web search. While I was looking I found a global citizenship site and I learned that I can register for a world passport. You can too at worldservice.org. More than 100 countries accept it as valid. The U.S., not surprisingly, is not among them, even though the organization is in Washington, D.C.

I like being a global citizen — every bit as much as I like being a Mainer. But one thing about living in Maine: I can leave Maine and learn what people in other places and other lands can teach me — and then come home again. And I can do it in foreign lands or right here in Pennsylvania. And next month, passport in hand, I intend to learn from citizens of Ecuador and Peru.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve lived as far west as Oregon and as far east as Amsterdam. Maybe that’s why I wish I could travel with a global passport as easily as a U.S. passport, because I feel a bit like an envoy from Maine, with Maine’s ethos of hard work and rugged independence to propel me out into the world, but its homey comfort to call me home.

So even though, for now, I spend the majority of my time working with the homeless in Pennsylvania I hope to bring what I learn about people and their most basic needs back to share with those I miss so much at home.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com. 74

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