We are all made of stars

Christopher Hook

There’s a certain romance to “the college trip to Europe.” Armed with nothing more than a green hiking backpack filled with one change of clothing and a toothbrush, gallivanting around this fabled continent by rail in search of new experiences and to kill, or perhaps maim, familiarity. The romance is in the sensations — tasting new food (and drink!), smelling the freshly fertilized farmland, touching old Gothic cathedrals and being one with history, feeding pigeons pieces of baguettes out of your hand. And I did these things. I had the romance. But the feeling I got out of the experience, the lasting wisdom, is what will be with me forever.

Back in Kent, I live at home in an effort to save money and stay connected with my family. The university is within walking distance; my father has been my professor twice. No doubt, walking around town, I will see many people I know. It is warm, it is intimate and it is familiar. I am thankful for it.

But at some point, a boy looks beyond his horizons and begins to see gray shapes moving in the background, shapes he never noticed were there. At some point, he begins to reject his upbringing simply because his parents raised him a certain way. I went to Europe because I wished to live for me, to live for new experience and new sensation and just break out of familiarity, to move closer to distinguishing my “gray shape.”

As part of my study abroad program, we were given two-month train passes, which gave us free passage through 20-some countries all around the continent, from Portugal to the Czech Republic to Norway to Greece. Trains were the medium by which I experienced Europe.

“Hush-hush,” breathed the train as it eased through crumbling Polish steel yards and sad gray train stations with high grass growing in between the tracks.

“Hush-hush” went the train passing French vineyards abound with ripened grapes and with it the toothless men covered in red juice waving goodbye, goodbye.

“Hush-hush” it said whisking through the Swiss mountain range, trundling through tiny mountain villages with tiny mountain people seemingly unaware (though this can’t be true) of the beautiful snow-capped peaks around them. “Hush-hush” through Spanish countryside wet with dew, “hush-hush” along quaint Belgian canal ways, and “hush-hush” along the Danube River where sunbathers soaked in the first rays of spring.

I saw all these things through the dingy windows of train cars. What excited me and frightened me at the same time were how many people the train simply passed, as if their lives were just so insignificant. Loud families bunched together on train platforms waiting for the 12:24 p.m. to Eisenach, or the lone businessman contemplating morning meetings, or the blond-haired child who, escaping her snoozing mother, wanders the aisles and stares unabashedly at other riders. I asked to myself, “What are these people’s lives like? Who are they?” And maybe they were asking the same thing about me.

My thirst to get out of my comfortable Midwest American life, this common and natural desire, was quenched by the unassailable observation that everyone lives in Small Town, USA, everyone lives in rural Poland, everyone lives in big city Berlin. Everyone lives everywhere. We are deeply intertwined in each other’s lives through our common humanities. Identifications like nationality, or race or religion are nothing compared to my broad realization. Me, the formerly sheltered kid that said, “Look at all of these random people. Aren’t we all just so random? Just so insignificant?” Yes, we are. But most importantly, we are also interconnected in this common thread. And through this, I found my peace with a lot of things.

People they come together

People they fall apart

No one can stop us now

Because we are all made of stars

— from “We Are All Made

of Stars,” by Moby

Christopher Hook is a

junior international relations

and French major. Contact him

at [email protected].