Czechoslovakia (Prop Noun): a former republic in central Europe formed after World War I
It was usually right before lunch in our fifth-grade class that the teacher asked us to open up our geography books.
I grew up in a small town.
In our tiny burg, the state capital, which was only twenty miles away, seemed a world apart from us in culture, problems and of course, interaction.
So when my teacher talked about places like Mississippi, Switzerland, Utah and Czechoslovakia, the names began to mingle. The relevance gradually disappeared.
I didn’t know anything about the countries.
Sometimes I confused the states of the Union with places far, far away—in Europe and Asia.
(It was a different time, filled with much prejudice—so we rarely talked about Africa. I knew there were jungles there. There were whisperings about cannibals, and my understanding of the lion was that it was man-eating.)
I didn’t feel ignorant.
I just didn’t think all of these nations and names and locales were of any value to me.
I didn’t see anybody from England coming over to try to understand me—so why was I sitting, opening a book, looking at flat maps representing a round world?
Then I grew up and took my first trip to Mississippi. Although some of its landscape was different from my home, most trees carry a family resemblance, no matter where you go. What opened up Mississippi to me was meeting someone and putting a face to a place.
As I traveled more, learned more, wrote more and created, I met more faces. They were tied to places.
One day I received an email from a young man from Czechoslovakia. He had read one of my books. I was astounded. How did it get there? Apparently, my books were not nearly as timid as I. They felt free to journey and be handled; they welcomed the inspection by people from all cultures.
By the way, his note to me was so nice.
He was so intelligent.
He was so appreciative.
It made me like Czechoslovakia.
It could be a short-sighted way of looking at life, but if I can put a face to a place, then the place begins to mean so much more to me.
For instance, I no longer think that Africa is filled with cannibals or that the lions wish to munch on human flesh.
I don’t think all people from California are “fruits and nuts,” like my Uncle Raymond claimed.
And I no longer believe that all French folk wear berets and do nothing but eat croissants and kiss with their tongues.
I guess the best way to learn geography is to first travel the width and breadth of your own heart, and make sure that you’re prepared to receive what you will discover.
The world is only twenty-six thousand miles—all the way around. Not very much. And within that twenty-six thousand miles are nearly eight billion people.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us all to believe that we would really like most of them?