The Problem, Why Travel Now?
I was having lunch with my friend, as we do almost every week. We spoke of his recent travels, the upcoming holidays and our families. Then after a longish pause, my friend looked at me and said, “Did you hear about Gerald?”. On alert now, I searched my recent conversations for some inkling of what he was about to say. “No”, I said, “what happened?” “Well”, my friend said, “he had been complaining of chronic intensifying pain, and finally went to the doctor. He has stage four pancreatic cancer. They sent him straight to the hospital to stabilize him, he’s been there for about two weeks now.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. These sorts of conversations have increased as I have gotten older. But I am still not used to them. Our friend had finally retired and was looking forward to the next chapter of his life. He had worked longer than he had wanted to, fearful that the money would not last, that he would die broke and alone. So, somewhat bitterly, he worked on, until finally he felt he had enough. He had lived with the pain for years. Just not enough to really worry him or divert him from his goal of getting “enough”. So he forged ahead, worked, saved money, put off the doctors, the travel, the visits to old friends. Once he had enough, he knew he would get to do the things he really wanted to do.
Oh Yea, That
The lesson of death is not new for me. But for some reason I cannot retain it. I forget there is only so much time. That there are infinitely more places to see than I have the time for. I experience the loss of a cherished individual, and for a little bit I know what is truly important to me. Then the chaos of the world begins to leak back in. It erodes my sense of what is important. I become distracted, and the important things fade into the background.
It is so easy and so trite to say, “follow your passion”, or “do what you love”. Most of us roll our eyes and bite our tongue and quietly think about car payments, kids in school, paying the monthly bills. Meanwhile, in the back of our mind is what happened to Grandma as her world disintegrated because of Alzheimer’s. Or the vision of Uncle Albert, peaceful, in his casket, at the age of 54 the victim of a massive heart attack that he never saw coming.
What if our wealth had more to do with our health, and the time left to us. What if you knew that in 11 months, three days and 7 hours, the blood clot that had been living happily in the base of you scull would inexplicably, (and inevitably), break loose and after a short sharp headache your clock would run out? What choices would you make? Who would you visit? Would you create, destroy, read more, see more, love more? Would you work more, or play more? Would you travel now?
Those seem like easy questions when we have an unlimited amount of time to answer them. But they become infinitely more difficult as we acknowledge our expiration date. But like so many tasks, they only get addressed once we start to work on them. And the process is the reward. Knowing that you hate firewood might free up time and energy for hiking, and photography. Understanding that your time is limited, you might decide to spend a lot less of it on people and places that you never really liked in the first place.
Knowing that we all have an inevitable hit-the-end-of-the-leash moment makes honesty easier. Not keeping up appearances with people we don’t know or really care about can save a lot of money. While connecting with people we deeply love and cherish can strengthen bonds and create community and a legacy that will outlast us.
So what would you do if you didn’t have much time left?
I suggest you make a list. The end result will be an inventory. A list of wealth, desires, and priorities. This list will help you asses what you have, want and need to get there. Once done, this can show where time and energy is wasted. It asses assets like health and money. It can be the guide to reallocate limited resources to align with what is truly important. It will help you travel now.
Taken as a whole, the process of committing to a new course in life can be daunting. But like everything else in life, when taken day by day it manifests into the future.
There are only so many events, trails, roads, and moments of sparkling laughter. This merciless thing called time makes experiences precious by limiting our access to them. Time creates and destroys opportunity and to not acknowledge that, guarantees regret.
Travel does not have to be expensive, decadent, or distant. When I walk in the large municipal park in my community I am seeking new things and experiences. A trip to a friends, a journey in a book, a walk down an unknown trail, joining a group. These are all ways to travel. It does not have to be Bangladesh, or Timbuktu. And when we return and relate our adventures to our family and friends, the distance traveled has little impact on the quality of the tales and adventures that our experience brings.
Really, you can do it!
So, once you have written your list of things to do, start doing them. If they are out of your reach, refine your search to things that are more attainable. Commit to a walk every day, on a different street or trail. Travel to a new place every week/month. Identify something close and commit to a date that you will start that journey. Then, start researching that place to learn its story, and figure out what you need to get there.
Because You Already Know This
I hope this reminder helps you venture out and travel now, because we all know how short life is. I hope its gives that little push that takes you to that next breath taking place. And I hope that we meet out there somewhere, and compare notes on what to see next.