Big-Hearted Intention Abounds in Wide – Open World
Most of us have imagined embarking on a months-long adventure to exotic places, exchanging our familiar routines for immersive living beyond our comfort zones. Television producer, director, and writer John Marshall lived the dream in 2010 as he, his wife, and their two teenagers traveled and volunteered for six months in a few countries. Marshall’s 2015 book, Wide – Open World, is a plain-spoken, no-indignity barred account of his family’s good and bad experiences of low-budget travel and high-intention goals of helping others abroad while renewing their familial ties.
The success of Marshall’s plan was put in motion by planning and cooperating with his family. The Marshalls committed to repairing and renovating their Maine home so that it could be sold to finance their travels. That idea went bust due to national economic downturns, so the Marshalls chose to rent their house. While wife Traca and 17 year-old son Logan were eager for the trip, 14 year-old daughter Jackson was ambivalent as she knew “freshman year is kind of a big deal.” Marshall, however, wanted his daughter to “leave the phone and the computer and the hair straightener at home… to get to know herself beyond her user name and password.” Jackson did choose to make the trip despite knowing she would miss out on six months of her high school’s social milieu. Marshall was delighted that she would miss that same amount of time with older boys but wisely did not broadcast his glee.
Once their trip began, the Marshall family lived and worked at places that interested them and needed their volunteer efforts. From caring for animals at a Costa Rican wildlife sanctuary, teaching English in a rural Thailand village, and other adventures in New Zealand and India, the family suffers and rejoices in equal measure. Monkey bites, small rooms, sweltering heat, a near-Biblical plague of flies, and numerous language and cultural missteps are just some of the trip’s downsides.
While the hardships of the trip were many, the upsides included better family communication and appreciation for each other’s strengths. Being hosted and educated by locals without the commercial sheen of guided travel gave the family viewpoints most tourists rarely attain. Whether learning how to avoid animal attacks, renovate a dorm room, or speak other languages, the family adapts to their surroundings with affection and respect for the native people they meet. Marshall writes movingly about the family’s work at an orphanage in India, a country with about 31,000,000 orphans. Marshall recounts his misgivings about teaching 100 children in India’s sauna-like monsoon season. Miserable and doubting his abilities, Marshall finally vows to do what was asked of him by the orphanage’s director – “just love the kids.” Marshall does love them and says of giving love, “It is perhaps the greatest power we all have. We can’t control the results or guarantee the reaction we’ll get.” But we can show up and try…. With that in mind, I walked… into the swirl of orphanage life.” This and other descriptions of doubt conquered made Wide – Open World a salve for my inner Eeyore.
After six tiring but illuminating months, the Marshalls returned to find their house filthy and needing repairs. Their tenant was gone and the rent was three months in arrears. Marshall’s chapter titled “Our Home’s Evil Twin,” is a short primer of what can happen to an absent landlord and should caution anyone thinking about leasing their home. For those still contemplating a similar globe-trot, Marshall includes information about financing such a trip, vaccinations, packing, and other fundamentals to consider before grabbing an atlas. For more details and photos about John Marshall’s trip and present projects, visit johnmarshall.com.
Wide – Open World is an inspiring and candid account of a family’s efforts to become closer while trying to give their best to those they served and from whom they learned so much. It is also about pushing one’s boundaries and being content with where the new limits lead.