June 18, 2017

 

It is hot and sunny today, not unexpected in most places in the Northern Hemisphere in June. In England, where I am this afternoon, and especially Wales, where I came from this morning, it is unusual. According to the hosts of the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Hay on Wye where I spent the weekend, it “pissed down cold rain” at last year’s 4-day event.

After I arrived on Thursday afternoon and checked in I glanced around the lobby. My eyes fell on a man sitting by himself on a bench. I recognized him at once from a photo he’d sent me in an email a few weeks ago; he was one of the people who had responded to my forum thread about riding pillion, and suggested a trip around England in June. He’d seemed so empathic when he first learned of Jackson’s death, opening up about his own sorrows and tribulations, but when he read my Mother’s Day poem a week or so later in which I allude to the ever tempting, never vanquished thoughts of suicide, he sent me an email begging me to “cheer up” and suggesting, among other things, I just think happy thoughts instead. I responded initially with my own suggestion that he educate himself about the phenomenon of grief, in particular as it pertains to parents of children; to single mothers of only children; to children who die a sudden, violent death. He replied with yet more naive and, albeit unintentional, offensive and thoughtless drivel, and in a fit of impatience I told him so. He stopped writing and so did I, realizing I couldn’t ride with him, that I would constantly feel compelled to hide my grief, and knowing what a strain this would be, how stressful I would find it. When I saw him sitting on the bench on Thursday I greeted him. I didn’t want to ignore him, or pretend I didn’t recognize him. I wanted him to see that my anger hadn’t lingered, and I bore him no hard feelings. For awhile anyway he’d been very kind to me and I had appreciated it. When I spoke his name he stood up, leaned in, and kissed me on one cheek then the other. I said it was nice to meet him. He replied, “You don’t look very depressed.” His tone was biting, sarcastic, as if he suspected I’d made the whole thing up. Or was he merely disappointed? I don’t know, but in that moment I knew I’d made the right decision in choosing not to ride with him.

Fortunately, 513 people showed up for the event and I soon found myself attending and taking copious notes in one presentation after another. I have long held the opinion that if you want to talk to interesting people, find people who travel. They are rarely without a story to share, and they provide continuous challenges to commonly held perceptions of non travelers about the places they (the travelers) have visited and they (the non travelers) have not. Of the many people I’ve spoken to who have been to Iran, for instance, not one has had anything bad to say about the people they encountered. On the contrary, there is a consensus that the Iranian people are some of the most friendly, hospitable, generous and gracious people anywhere in the world. Travelers – Westerners and non Muslims, on motorcycles, bicycles, on foot – repeat these words, heard again and again from complete strangers who stopped to give them advice or directions and after the briefest of exchanges, invited them back to their home for a meal or even one or several nights sleep: “Please, you are a guest in my country.” This reminder that the governing body of a political regime do not necessarily reflect all or even the majority of the people living within and under its umbrella is important and timely, it seems to me. And only by traveling will you see with your own eyes that this is the case. The experiences these individuals have had do not lessen the need to understand intellectually (as well as work to change) the inherent contradictions that exist within rigid and outdated ideologies like Islam to some of the values that we in the Western world hold dear, like civil liberties, freedom of speech, the press and religion, women’s rights, gay rights, and environmental protection to name a few, values that make life not only better, safer, and more just, but also rife with possibility for everyone, not just a select few. But they do illustrate how complicated and messy and unpredictable people are, and how critical it is that we continue to treat the people we meet, wherever we meet them, as individuals whenever possible, and not as stereotypes inextricably linked to identities which they may not internalize or even choose.

I listened to advice, anecdotes and instruction from numerous couples and individuals whose travel histories vastly exceed mine, and found myself especially drawn to the presentations about Africa, a destination I’ve longed to visit for most of my life. I also gravitated to the several women present who have traveled alone and extensively; two such women, Zoe and Tiffany, happened to be my roommates in the dorm I was assigned to. These women inspire me; they are independent, brave, and intrepid. They feel fear like we all do from time to time, but their attitude is that they will not let their fear prevent them from doing what matters to them. Every time they encounter an obstacle and have to find a way around it on their own, they become a little bit stronger; each time a situation gets the better of them, they become a little bit wiser. They are risk takers, not wild and indiscriminate and self-destructive risk takers, but calculated, life-is-short, quality trumps quantity risk takers. I admire them, and take hope from their open hearts and curious minds.

Today is June 18, 2017:

-The birthday of my almost step daughter from a life I can barely remember, almost 30 years ago, yet sweet detailed moments like snapshots of the time I spent with her and her sister will parade across my mind when I least expect them
-The day Mike, one of my dearest friends, leaves Los Angeles for his own adventure in Brazil for the next three months
– Father’s Day
-The third anniversary of my son’s death

Last year at this time I wrote an essay that was published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in their quarterly newsletter. The same day it was picked up and reprinted on Hemant Mehta’s blog, The Friendly Atheist. For those of you interested in reading it, here is the link. My article is on Page 3: https://ffrf.org/images/uploads/fttoday/2016/FT_September_2016.pdf

 

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