Some Travel Lessons I Learned From Watching The Little Mermaid


Ariel sings, “I wanna know what the people know, ask ’em my questions and get some answers.” For this little ginger mermaid, the possibility of life meant so much more than staying in the ocean and revising her old swimming grounds time and time again. She knew there was a whole other world out there, and she wanted to be a part of it.

Ariel knew this world held wonder. She collected beautiful things – both commonplace and unique – that spoke to her about this other life, a life so different from her own. A fork wasn’t just a fork, and a fire – why did it burn? Ariel knew, without question or doubt, that the world above was an incredible one; it was worthy. She didn’t fear it.

In the days before I left America for the last time in a long time, I watched The Little Mermaid with my father. I hoped it would help ease his fear, and aid in the transition from his little girl being safe-at-home to entering the world-at-large. Like King Triton, he could only see the bad – the hate and the pain. “You could have been seen by one of those barbarians, one of those humans,” Triton says. For my dad, it was, “it’s not you I don’t trust. It’s all of them.” Them meaning outsiders, foreigners… anyone who didn’t grow up just a few miles down the road.

My father comes from a small town. I come from a small town. The kind of place where everyone shows up for the homecoming football game, and if you didn’t return your library book, Ms.Valentine knew who you were… and where you lived, and she went to the PTA meetings with your mom. Like most Americans, it took me a long time to get that first stamp in my passport. Though once it was there I was hooked, always desperate for more ink. But others are content at home. They never get around to those stamps, and fulfillment is found no further than their own back yard.

I am not one of these people. And neither was Ariel. At some point, by fortune or design, we both recognized that no matter how far the outside world was, no matter how scary or uncertain or unfamiliar, the real danger was in staying too close to home. The greatest threat Ariel faced, Ursula the Sea Witch, was just swimming distance from her own palace, a supposedly safe haven. It was at home that she lost her voice, lost who she was.

When Ariel finally made it on dry land, she might not have regained her voice, but she gained so much more. She learned to survive and thrive. She tried new things, saw new sights… she fell in love. Though Ariel didn’t get her voice back, not yet, she found a part of herself she never would have found otherwise.

Amazing things happened when Ariel left home. She could have worried about the barbarians, but she didn’t. She saw the world as a place to learn. To dance and run and question and explore. She gave the world everything she was. And in return, she got the world.

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