Since my husband and I were happily able to retire four years ago, one of our chief joys in life is travel. We’ve enjoyed road trips and ocean cruises, winter idylls in tropical places, and spring and fall explorations of different parts of Europe. We almost always have at least two trips in the works, and we do most of the planning ourselves – it’s part of the fun! In each European city we visit, we walk and use public transportation, because it gets us closer to the people who live and work there. We travel light, with only a 21-inch carry-on each, and we bring home almost no souvenirs except pictures, and the personal transformation that getting out of one’s domestic comfort zone offers.

After each trip, we talk together about our memories – the beauty of the landscapes, the wonders of art and history and culture in great museums, churches, synagogues and mosques. But more than any of these, we recall the personal encounters with people, both locals and fellow travelers, around things mundane and profound, particular and universal.

There was the hotel clerk in Amsterdam who considered being fluent in English, but also German, French, Spanish and Portuguese, and of course Dutch, unremarkable, and in fact necessary in order to work. There was the friendly group of young people who made room for us on the patio of a Brussels beer hall, including us in the celebration of the 30th birthday of one of the young men, a rite of passage with dubious overtones because he is, at this advanced age, unmarried. There were people in Berlin going to work and school, running mundane errands and carrying home groceries and children, amidst the Brandenburg Gate and remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, reminders of a history that is in books for us, but in the daily lives of Europeans. There was the German couple on vacation in Switzerland, who, when I shared that I was born in Germany, my father an American officer who was part of the occupying force after the war, told us about his father, conscripted into Hitler’s army at gunpoint and killed three days before the war’s end, their family then ostracized because they’d been on the wrong side of history.

And everywhere, there were immigrants: the server in Belgium whose parents were from Syria, the guide in Prague who had followed a job opportunity from Italy; the Scottish historian who found work in Switzerland; the Iranian family running a shop in Augsburg; the American living in Amsterdam because professional opportunities in the art world are there.

Friends at home sometimes ask if we’re worried about terror attacks, given the explosions in Brussels, the Christmas market attack in Berlin, the knife attacks in London, the concert bombing in Manchester. But frankly, we’re more concerned about gun crime in the U.S. than these far less frequent incidents, and we refuse to allow them to keep us from traveling. Our favorite travel writer, Rick Steves, has written about “Travel as a Political Act,” but we think of it also as a spiritual act – an act of solidarity with people whose lives and loves, whose hopes and dreams, whose struggles and joys are in countries and cultures and languages different from our own. For truly, we are one human family, as Lloyd Stone’s stirring lyric says so well:

This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;

but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.