I still clearly remember the first time I tasted red wine. I was 19 years old, in a cramped crew cabin onboard the Carnival Cruise Lines ship, the Elation, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. This was the usual late-night musician hang, including seven of us that covered a diverse span of ages, ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds. We just finished one of the live shows for the guests, and were each still adorned in our performance attire: all black (tucked-in) collared button-up shirt, pants, and shoes, with the gold Carnival name plate pinned to the left shirt pocket: “SEAN”. The drummer of our group, a man in his 50s who found himself in the cruise musician ranks after a career of freelance work in Vegas dried up, handed me a white paper cup filled halfway with the dark burgundy liquid. I held it in my hand for a minute before taking a sip. I tried not to seem over-anxious around my more worldly and experienced bandmates, but my heart was pumping fast with anticipation for this moment.
As I tilted the cup back, my taste buds started to process the room-temperature liquid. Immediately my body tripped an internal alarm system, and every cell of my being attempted to resist this new, foreign, disgusting taste. Bitterness, bite – UGH! Was this right? Was I given a cup of medicine on accident? I masked my shock and tried to act as though every thing was fine. “Yeah, it's good!”
I don't remember how I forced myself to finish the rest of my wine that night onboard the Carnival ship, and I certainly don't remember the second time I tried wine. I am, however, thankful that I eventually was able to move past my initial revulsion. A dry red wine is absolutely one of my favorite drinks now, and I feel like I'm only beginning to appreciate the complexities of flavor that are offered.
When I was slightly older, a mere 22, I had the opportunity to travel to Japan as part of a musical production. I was just about to graduate college, with no plans, only the feeling of excitement to finally reach the finish line of school. For a brief period of time, I actually considered turning down this incredible job opportunity. My reasoning was that I wouldn't be playing the exact type of music that I loved, and I didn't want to miss out on the freedom that I was about to have. Why do I need to go to Japan when I have everything I need right here?
I am glad that I came to my senses and accepted the opportunity to fly to Tokyo, to begin work as a professional, touring saxophonist. This was a life-changing experience that led to 3 other tours of Japan, totaling over 8 months of living all over that incredible country. I was lucky to be immersed in a culture so different from the United States, especially at a young age. This helped open my eyes to a world full of diversity.
I wanted to share these two experiences as examples of the importance to break out of our shells. As a young adult, I didn't feel as though I “needed” to go to Japan, when in fact, as a white male from the United States, with little time spent outside of the country, that was exactly what I needed! The Japanese history, culture, people, food, cities, and towns all gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a citizen of the world. I fell deeply in love with the country, and could happily live there now if I chose to. After my initial sip of wine, I was ready to shun this liquid from my life forever. Only after trying different brands on many other occasions did I begin to realize the depth of taste that was actually present.
When I hear a person make dismissive comments about a type of food, or a country, or a genre of music, I wonder if they have given themselves the chance to fully acquire the taste, and realize the complexity of whatever they are referring. I don't think I need to explain the racial implications of this idea, but on a simpler level when I hear someone say something like “I don't like sushi”, I always want to exclaim “you haven't tried it in Japan, it will blow your mind!” Or the comment “I don't like classical music” makes me think to myself “can you name three classical composers? This music has been around hundreds of years, with thousands of composers...I bet we can find something you like!”
I hope I can continue to break through the shells that I have created for myself, and those that are built into society. Some discomfort or unfamiliarity should not be a cause for fear, dislike, or hatred, but rather an opportunity to learn and expand our knowledge and enjoyment of life. I believe this is an important viewpoint to strive for, and can ultimately help on large scale like international relations, or simply to love our neighbors as ourselves. An experience that might seem insignificant at first might actually be a doorway to a world of possibilities that we are initially unable to imagine.