Travel has always been important to me. Having time off and going on holiday are two different things in my little world. While I do enjoy any time off from work (and not to disparage work – I do enjoy what I do), there is something transformative about leaving the familiar and going elsewhere. Even if that transformation is temporary, it’s still an excursion into a time-limited new normal. Or not-so-normal normal.
We went on a cruise for a week and while I won’t bore you with the sunny details (is that a #humblebrag?), needless to say it was a very groovy way of spending a week. It was our first family trip, with our little boy now (almost) officially part of the clan. We were supposed to sign off in front of a judge the day before we left, but it got postponed. (I have to say that that is the only court date I can say I have ever looked forward too.) But for all intents and purposes, it’s a done deal. Signed with the sweat and blood of all the karma and pain and work involved in having our youngest cross our paths and into our lives and hearts.
Travel recharges me. Resets in internal mechanism that tends to build up without my expressed written consent. Smooths the edges over. It’s not so much time away from the familiar, as it is seeing and experiencing a new way of doing things. A new reality. Or, more accurately, other people’s reality. Sure, some of it is window dressing. I don’t get catered to in my own life. I don’t get chauffeured on a regular basis. I don’t have someone taking care of everything so that I can chill out. My temporary reality is really the reality of those doing the catering. Their life is a tough one. Nine months away from their family, no days off. Taking care of slugs like me. Cleaning up after me. Smiling and saying “yes sir!” when I ask the simplest of things. But I do the same when I am at work. Yes ma’am. Yes boss. Yes dear (okay, that’s at home). Different realities going on at the same event, yes? But that’s the spinning top we call home.
What this trip did for me is not only allow me to spend time with my family (my parents were on the trip too), or to get burnt to a crisp by the unrelenting Honduran sun or to get in a substantial amount of reading, some exercise and writing, but in shifting my perspective. Sure, it was fun to be pampered. It’s not something I allow much for myself. In some ways it was an exercise in letting go. Letting go of the “you don’t deserve this” kind of thoughts. So I truly felt at peace in many ways. And we all tried new things, allowed ourselves to experience different things. Together.
One of the things I learned is that having an all-you-can-gorge-on buffet while training for a half-marathon is like having Letterman host the Oscars – possible, but an unlikely combination. The good news is that I was able to run a few miles every other day and actually didn’t gain weight. It was a tie, if you will. And like they say in hockey, a tie is like getting kissed by your sister. But I will take it. And look forward to getting more kilometres under me before the race.
The other thing I learned is that wherever you go, you will run into like-minded folks. If one seeks. I was fortunate enough to look through the ship itinerary and find that hell ya, there is a 12-step meeting held nightly. So slobs like me forking into their third helping of chicken Masala and BBQ pork and mashed potatoes could be lulled into doing something positive for the day. I met some fabulous people in recovery there. Many of them old timers – 15, 30, 35 years of sobriety. The most inspiring folks I met was a married couple. Both from North Carolina. He had four months sobriety, and she six months. This was their first sober cruise. I couldn’t imagine doing a trip like that so early in recovery. But they did it – surrounded by free flowing booze and countless lounges and dining areas. Kudos to them.
The fabulous thing about these meetings is that I got to meet, and therefore recognize and converse, with these alcoholics all around the ship and on shore. I met one man at the coffee area and we spoke about our days for about 30 seconds before getting into a deep and probing discussion about the nature of resentments and their causes and their wreckage. Who else does that happen with? Certainly not the local orthodontist or Red Hat Society treasurer. So my gratitude circle certainly included all those aboard who shared of themselves during the daily melees of meatball subs and margaritas.
The real shot of reality came with the news of a murder during our trip. In Roatan, Honduras, one of the crew members decided to go out and venture on his own. The staff are always advised to travel in groups, but this young man, a cook, figured he would be safe in the daylight. Carrying a cell phone that belonged to another crew member, he was approached by another young man on a bike. When the cook refused to hand over his coworker’s property, he was shot in the shoulder and head. Dead. And just like that, that curtain on the Wizard of Oz was pulled open. The illusion was shattered.
There we were, shuttled about, coddled, fed like fat geese, wiped up after and protected by layers and layers of security, and yet all that meant nothing when a man who was working to send money back home to people who were probably just as poor and desperate as the guy on the bike brandishing a gun was. And yet they come to owning stuff through different means. These are the sometimes choices, these are circumstances, these are the bitch of being born where you are born. I too came to things in different ways. I came to wanting what I wanted when I wanted and escaping my own self and life through reckless drinking and heavy handed selfishness. I eventually found what I really craved – a spiritual connection – through the haze and pain of my circumstances and poor judgement. Of desperation.
Like that kid on the bike had – full on desperation.
He and I aren’t that much different. When I heard the news, as the captain announced it overhead as we ate in the dining room, I said a prayer for the slain victim. But I also said one for the shooter. Why? Why not? How different is that guy from me? He wielded a pistol. I drove a two-ton weapon whenever I drank and drove. He wanted some immediate satisfaction through intimidation and possessions. I wanted immediate satisfaction when I put myself and others in danger when I needed that next drink. That kid probably thought he wasn’t doing anything wrong, that he was doing what he needed to do to survive. I did the same.
Different latitude, same attitude. Sickened, poisoned minds, born of desperation and want. Of pride. Ego. Survival. So who’s the animal? I don’t know. Paint it as many hues of washed out aqua and sandy beige, but deep down we stir the same type of beasts. Some of those beasts crave violence, some crave sex, some crave drugs, some crave alcohol. I sit in my cushy city-on-water talking to others who have the same beast as I, while others don’t have that option. Or chance.
And that’s the other tragedy here. That’s the tragedy that almost was for me when I was lucky (or blessed) to be caught before killing anyone. I could be rotting in a jail as well, wondering where it went wrong, where it went to shit, where I could have done something different. But who would I be kidding? As an active alcoholic, drinking was the game. Until I couldn’t take it any more and I chose another game.
I realize, dear reader, that this turned into something a bit more than just a jaunty little ditty about returning from holiday. Having said that, I did have a great time, but I always kept the memory of both young men in that tragic play in the back of my mind. It helped me put a filter on my time off. It anchored (no pun intended) my gratitude.
My reality these days is a shifting one, always rising, falling, calming, drifting. It includes all the things I used to cast off – love, tolerance, empathy, joy, patience (well, at least working on all those). My reality is the one I am humbly asked to serve and yet have choices abound that allow me to surround myself with those who add to my life, and not take away. To not play small and to up my game.
Earlier I said transformation is temporary. I question that now, and wonder if even temporary transformations cause permanent effect on a different level. I know that illusions can be attractive. That is what my drinking did for me – hung up a tasty looking veil of falsehood that lured me over and over again. Reality takes courage. Reality is where I am at this moment. Reality is knowing that I am true to form and to myself. Reality rocks even when it doesn’t.
And that’s the kind of thing I will pause and think about next time I am on the sand and surf, gazing at nothing and yet taking it all in.