We've been inspired by many people as we've traveled the world, from street vendors to extraordinarily wealthy entrepreneurs. The real magic of travel is not only in the sights, but in the human connection.
As we've been navigating these tumultuous times, I've been trying to conjure up some of those memories as continued inspiration to forge ahead. There are lessons to be learned. Sometimes you find those lessons in the most unlikely places. The warm embrace of an Italian shopkeeper. The sweetness of the Peruvian street vendors. The optimism of a Bhutanese monk.
Back in 2009, one of the greatest lessons happened at my dad's home while I was looking for AA batteries.
I'll try not to get too sentimental, but you may find his story and his outlook on life to be of some interest. There is a connection to travel.
My dad was born in 1924 on a farm in north central Illinois. Growing up, he loved sports and came to excel at basketball. Though he was a farm boy who lived just outside a town of a couple hundred, he must have been pretty darned good at it. He dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player, was scouted by the pros, and was offered a basketball scholarship at the University of Illinois, though he wasn't much of a scholar. He fancied himself good enough to make it. His plan was to play well enough in college to become a professional basketball player.
He was not only a pretty exceptional athlete, he was also a motorcyclist. I don't know how he had come into possession of such a thing, but he somehow bought a motorcycle. One day, not so long before he was to head off to the U of I, he was riding down a country road when a woman in a car ran a stop sign and struck him at high speed. His injuries were grievous, so severe that the neighbors knew he could not make it. So, rather than take him to a hospital, they simply took him home to his parents, so he could die at home.
A day passed and he stubbornly refused to give up on life. Two more days. Still alive. So, my grandfather, with the help of those neighbors who had brought him home, took him to a hospital about 20 miles away, in Rockford, Illinois where the doctors did their best to save him. They did, though it took a whole year in the hospital. When he left, his dream was no longer achievable--his mangled left leg was about two inches shorter than his right and he had no use of his knee. He spent over sixty years of his life walking with a severe limp, many of those years with a cane in hand.
But once he was released from the hospital, he pressed on. He met my mom, herself a victim of an unfortunate childhood, and made a living for a time selling magazines. Never a book genius, he got by through his considerable reservoir of charm and an abundance of hard work. My eldest brother was born a couple years after they married. Their second child, my brother Larry, died within hours of being born. Over the years my mom, who dearly loved children, had a number of miscarriages, but they "kept trying," ultimately succeeding--if you want to call it that--with me and my sister.
As the years went by, though they knew a fair amount of poverty and other struggles, my dad grew increasingly successful. At some point, I suppose you could say he and my mom became wealthy. We kids never made much of it, either way. The days when we only had an outhouse didn't seem all that different than the days when things were much better. While he sometimes got pretty aggravated about things, it was only years later than I realized that my dad took the bad with the good. He never really complained about anything, even the things that would make other men bitter.
As the years have passed, his fortunes again took a turn. My mother died a few years before him, of complications of Alzheimer's. For the past few years of her life, my dad did it all--he fed her, he bathed her, he dressed her, and he did her makeup for her. He always did it with good humor, even when it seemed unbearable. He never complained. Sometimes, when the topic would turn to my mom's condition, he would describe it the same way he talked about his life-changing accident, matter of factly saying, "It's a hell of a thing."
The last few years of his life brought their own problems for him--heart failure, a serious fall that caused bleeding on the brain and months of nursing home care, and an increasing inability to walk without great pain. Other pretty miserable stuff, too. But, he never really complained. He just adapted and tried to work through it. Some of the contraptions he rigged up were almost comical, but they represent the thinking of someone raised on the farm--you just figure out a way to make it work with baling wire. Complaints? Not really.
So, we to his home as often as we could, hoping to help in some way. One day, in December of 1999, one of things I found was a "low battery" indication on his thermostat. So, off I went in search of AA batteries. As I was rummaging through his desk, I saw a piece of paper, resting upright against his desk lamp. Hardly poetic, it nonetheless conveyed a message that was obviously important to him, one that some of us would do well to remember when, as is now the case, things aren't going so well:
I share this not to evoke sympathy, but to bring back into focus the "posative" things that the opportunity to travel bestows on us. My parents' times of turmoil were difficult, but they overcame them. It's the stories like theirs that give us hope, and help to put our present situation in perspective.
Some of our best memories--and I know they were good times for them, too--were the journeys that Victoria and I took together with my mom and dad. England, Norway, and myriad other destinations come immediately to mind. The difficulties of life, like those many of us presently face, seemed to be supplanted by the joy they found in their journeys. Over the years, they amassed an wide array of dear friends throughout the world. In fact, on one of those trips Victoria and I met a couple who were traveling with their pre-teen daughter, and we became life-long friends. To this day, we visit Jan (the mum) whenever we find ourselves in London.
This is all going to get better. Though it's happening in sputters, the world is reopening.
Your day is coming. Ours is, too. In just a few weeks we'll be traveling to an incredible part of the United States and sharing that experience with you. We're looking forward to our January 2021 voyages to Antarctica and the Greek Isles (and we invite you to join us!). In just over a year from now, we'll be motorcycling through southern Africa, taking in some of the most amazing sites on that continent. Again, you're invited.
If the past few months has left you a bit dispirited, you're not alone. But hope is on the horizon; we are turning this around. Please think seriously about your plans to re-engage with the world through travel. Put those plans into action. But, above all else, "Be Posative."
We will see you on the road....