John Marshall’s life had been tracking a predictable middle-class story line—a house in the suburbs, married to the same woman for 20 years, two teenage children—yet he sensed that something was amiss. There had to be more to life than what he was experiencing.
Rather than resorting to skirting around the edges of change, or even making a myriad of resolutions that are akin to a magic talisman or lucky rabbit’s foot—losing weight, joining a gym, or even finding a different job—Marshall’s prescription called him and his family towards something much more radical.
Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, is the story about Marshall and his family spending part of 2010 traveling, volunteering in various places on what became a global odyssey. This experience broadened Marshall’s and his family’s perspective by taking them outside themselves and their comfortable surroundings.
A short yoga vacation with Traca to an ashram offered Marshall a glimpse of what might be possible. On the flight home to Maine, four words were on his mind: a year of service. What would that look like, and was it even possible? They were about to find out.
Not to make light of the logistics, but they weren’t as challenging as most people think. In fact, Marshall does a great service to readers, by walking them through some scenarios at the end of the book. Ultimately, it’s about letting go and giving in to the possibilities. Soon, the Marshalls would be on their way, on a vacation trip different than any typical family vacation—this one built around service and volunteering.
The initial stop on their itinerary was the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, an animal orphanage in the jungles of Costa Rica. It’s clear from the start that Marshall and family aren’t in suburban Maine anymore.
Marshall never comes across in his narrative as some kind of super-righteous, holier-than-thou moralist. Instead, he lends his own experiences to his readers, pointing them towards new possibilities.
At each subsequent location, Marshall along with his wife and children were engaged in volunteer work for a part of each day. In Costa Rica, it was feeding abandoned animals, raking paths, cleaning cages and helping out with tourists who visited on day tours. After their chores and activities were done, the family had the remainder of each day free to explore their new surroundings.
From Costa Rica, it’s on to New Zealand and work on an organic farm; next, a primary school in Thailand where they teach English to local students in Bangkok; then, an orphanage in India.
All good things must come to an end. After six months, it’s back home to the life they’d left behind in Gorham. Marshall is honest about what the return was like. All four family members were changed, but this didn’t mean that the return landing wouldn’t be somewhat bumpy.
Each family member learns new things about themselves during their time away. For John, it was time to face realities in his life that he’d been putting off and hoping, perhaps magically, that the time away might heal. This was also true for his wife, Traca. Jackson and Logan found meaning in serving others.
For anyone contemplating a radical life-change, and wrestling with the realities of making it happen, Marshall’s book is a great place to start.
When purchasing John’s Book we hope you’ll consider one the many local booksellers.
(if we missed your favorite bookstore, please let us know and we’ll be happy to add it to the list)