I've had a small but worthy epiphany.
It began as I had discussions with two different friends a couple of days ago about the far-reaching benefits of travel. I love to travel; if I could, I would be going everywhere all time, seeing friends, discovering new places, trying new things. Travel brings an expansiveness, a more mindful way of seeing the world. It refreshes and energizes and challenges; it can take us out of our comfort zone and teach us things we could learn no other way. I can't really think of many better activities to take on in life than to see as much of the world as you can.
My conversations with my friends both morphed into the difficulties inherent in traveling. The process of getting where you want to go is often prohibitively expensive, both time- and money-wise. And when isn't it a huge drag to get anywhere, what with lugging luggage, long security lines, crying babies, flight delays, air turbulence that spills your coffee all over your lap and rattles your psyche, with the general cattle-corral aspect of the whole experience. And if you already have issues -- you are afraid to fly, afraid to travel alone, or your back hurts or your feet swell or you cannot deal with some snotty brat kicking your seat from Newark to Naples -- sometimes it's just easier to switch on the Travel Channel and dream.
When I was younger I can remember being so irritated by everything involved in travel that seemed to grossly underline all the flaws of the human race that you could not escape, sitting in a flying tin ship for hours. But, now...now I am older, and have developed a bit more Chill Out. The crying babies? I pretend they are exotic squawking tropical birds. Lugging luggage? Wheels, baby, wheels, and curbside check-in. Flight delays? More the chance that I might get a free ticket in the end. Turbulence and coffee failure? WHATever.
And here is where my little realization stepped in, for one of the things that used to bug me the most about traveling was OLD PEOPLE. My GOD, they were so OLD and SLOW! There they would be, hobbling along, oblivious to anyone else around them trying to move in a more timely fashion, taking FOREVER to get on and off the plane, struggling to put shopping bags full of discount clothes and oranges in the overhead bins, snoring in their seats and/or getting up to use the plane toilet all the time while grabbing everyone else's seat to steady themselves, and riding through the airport in those damn courtesy carts beeping and shoving me to the side, while I HAD TO WALK. PFFT. GOD, you OLD people, give up already, I would exclaim in my mind in frustration, if you can't deal, then STAY HOME and leave the fun to us!
And, now...well, now. Now I see my mother's face in all of those old folks'. Now I know that all of them, just to be able to keep seeing and doing and experiencing the world outside of their own towns have to try so much harder than I ever could have understood in my less-compassionate days. Their aging bodies ache; old bones and muscles complaining loudly with too much movement, or too little. It's hard to get comfortable, hard to walk, hard to lift anything, hard to hear, hard to see, hard to keep track of the pills you have to take every few hours, hard to eat the diet your doctor says you must, hard to accept that traveling isn't carefree and easy, and will take a great deal of physical and mental effort and some risk.
So why do they do it? Why bother? Because the old lady who kept going to the bathroom will do anything she has to do to travel the 2500 miles to see her new grandbaby. Because the old man who coughed the whole way wants to see his Army pals in his old hometown one more time before it's too late. Because the couple that somehow managed to stay together for 50 years saved enough money to finally be able to tour the great castles and churches of Europe. Because those two chatty elderly sisters travel together every year to Scottsdale to soak up the sun and make quiet randy comments to each other about the cute lifeguards.
Because they have to try harder than anyone else and because it would be so much easier for them to never try at all, the old folks, to me, are heroes. To do, to see, to experience, to share in all of the world, and to do so until the very last, is beautiful.
And it only took me 50 years to figure that out.
I've had a small but worthy epiphany.