Dearest Rachel –
So at the risk of acknowledging the fourth wall a bit, I’ve been asked where and how I come up with topics to discuss with you every single day (and then some). And it’s a fair question, really. Much as I enjoy the little dopamine hit that tells me “Congratulations! You’re on a XX-day streak with Letters to Rachel! Keep up the good work!” I do find myself wondering from one letter to the next what I’m going to tell you about without getting too repetitive.
After all, a day at the ‘office’ – while much less regular now that half my days are spent here at home cleaning things out – is still a day at the ‘office.’ I may have side projects I work on concurrently with my regular work, but those are… difficult to explain until they’re all taken care of. And the main work? Well, it wasn’t just the fact that I hated life at my job that caused me to not tell you much about what went on there. The fact is, as necessary and important it is for an organization to have clear, clean financial records, it’s admittedly esoteric and dull for those not actually versed in the topic. And while you may have a more vested interest in the goings-on at church or camp, these letters are meant to be able to be pulled out and looked at in years to come – even if they aren’t all love letters, they should retain much of their meaning in the future – and as important as it may be for the moment, how either of those operations are doing for the month of March 2021 isn’t going to really matter to either of us in five or ten years. So there’s no point bringing it up.
Well, sometimes the topic just drops into my lap – or appears in the post box, at least. And this one is one that provokes a considerable amount of ambivalence at the moment – and I think you’ll be able to figure out why in short order.
The thing is, we have spent many summers – and since I retired and Daniel graduated, we haven’t even had to be confining our trips to summer – traveling to one location or another. I was tempted to use the adjective ‘exotic’ there, but most of the time, we would visit this or that city, and what might be considered ‘exotic’ to a Chicagoan is nothing more than routine daily life for, say, a Londoner or a Barcelonan.
Thanks to my parents, we had been hooked on cruises since they took us to Alaska back in 1999. What’s not to love? You’re not having to schlep your luggage from place to place, your fancy hotel does all the traveling for you. You enjoy this location one day, head back to your room for a good night’s sleep (and whatever else you might find to do there), and the next day, you’re somewhere else entirely. How cool is that?
And there were so many places we still wanted to see. Heck, we were looking forward to doing the whole Hawaii cruise with the SeaBronies (with Peter May – the voice of Big Macintosh – as the featured guest). But that says nothing of the fact that you wanted to take a transatlantic voyage, like the pilgrims – if only to actually experience the rocking of the open ocean (ships have gotten big enough that the tides of the Mediterranean or the Baltic were considered too tame for the likes of you – you wanted to feel the ocean as we moved). And I’d just seen, before the accident, that Royal Caribbean – our preferred carrier, to the point that we own stock in the company, just like Dad did after 9/11 (and quadrupled his money on that bet, too!) – had some very interesting cruises in the Asian Pacific as this year began. Although it was frustrating to find out from our travel agent that those were still not yet open to us disease-ridden Amerika-jin. She did say that she would look for other opportunities that we might be interested in.
And while you were taken from us, she continued to search. Which brings me to how this all landed in the postbox yesterday afternoon – and how this topic came to be.
While the return address on the priority mail (!) envelope was somewhere in California, it included a cover letter from our agent here in Chicago. Even more remarkable was that this advertisement wasn’t your ordinary brochure, no. This thing was a fairly thick and well-produced catalogue. And I do mean thick – I’d say maybe half the size of an old Sears Wish Book, if that meant anything to anyone any more. About half an inch worth of pages listing travel opportunities…
…in Africa. On safari.
Is that exotic enough for you? Oh, yes, and then some. Both Daniel and I agreed it was beyond anything we might have even considered, and way down our bucket list (if it was ever on it at all). And that’s saying nothing of some of the prices – although that’s not really as much of an issue as it used to be, we’re still not accustomed to certain numbers. So no, this goes in the recycling bin until such time as we’ve done everything else we’ve wanted to.
Later in the evening, after returning from the praise team biweekly recording session, I’m working on paying the bills when Lars calls to check up on me. I do appreciate the fact that I have people like him who are concerned about me during all of this, but I still have to admit that I don’t know how to respond to this attention. And again, in his case I can’t call it “sudden,” although there has been a fair amount of that. He’s been reaching out to me concurrent with the fact that he regularly comes to visit the folks, and (I think) sees in me something of a peer. We do go way back – he stood up at our wedding, after all – and I dare say he considers Mom and Dad to be, if not a second pair of parents, beloved mentors. So reaching out to me comes naturally to him. I wish that responding appropriately came as naturally to me; I still feel a little awkward doing so. But I need him as a friend, just as I need all these others who are reaching out to me, so I try to respond as well as I know how.
In any event, the topic of discussion ran to doing things that one would consider meaningful, as a way to work through the grieving process – to which I would point out the work I do for church and camp, as well as the ongoing cleanup of the house and all that entails (including the fact that I’m not at the ‘office’ as often when he comes by to check up on the folks). He brought up something that is apparently on his bucket list to do – traversing the Camino del Santiago as a sort of ‘pilgrimage.’ It involves crossing Europe – or at the very least, the Iberian peninsula – under one’s own power (either walking or on a bicycle), staying in hostels along the route (complete with a sort of ‘passport’ that would be stamped at each place you would stay or eat at along the way that had been set up for that purpose so many years ago) until arriving at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the body of James, the younger brother of Jesus and the writer of the eponymous epistle, is said to be buried.
As pilgrimages go, it’s intriguing, but I’d be the first to admit that it wouldn’t be high on my list. After having been to Israel several times with you, I’d probably prefer to visit the sites of the old Christian churches in Greece and Asia Minor (I know, I know, it’s called Turkey now, and we have been to Ephesus. Still, there’s more I haven’t seen that I’d like to). And of course, there’s the challenge – that I doubt I’m up to – of such a long walk, or bike ride, that’s involved in the particular trip Lars describes. I’d need more encouragement than just a well-stamped passport to get me to travel like that these days.
Although… never say never. Were we to persuade the girls to join us in our travels, they might well urge us to put the ‘travail’ in our ‘travels.’ Erin, in particular, is an avowed exercise nut, particularly with regard to her beloved bicycle. Were she to join us in our travels, she might well be the encouragement I’d need to do something like that. And in fairness, I know that kind of exercise is something I need to do – my doctor had me schedule a stress test in preparation for putting me on an exercise regimen in the week after the accident.
Of course, I dare say I’ve been through enough stress lately, thank you very much, so I cancelled that appointment, and haven’t been back since.
And one doesn’t have to go all the way to Europe for a long bicycle trek, either. It turns out that, at the same time that AnimeIowa is going on, the 48th annual Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is finishing up in Coralville (another reason to snap up hotel rooms as soon as they become available). I mentioned it to Erin, and – were it not for her schedule, and her plans to visit her parents (no, she didn’t over the week after Easter) – she’d be interested. Maybe next year?
And that’s the other part about traveling: as far as we’re concerned, these are experiences that are meant to be shared, and while we could (barring the pandemic and the dog) go wherever we wanted to at the drop of a hat, we have no one who could do the same and join us on whatever trip we would like to take. We would most likely invite Ellen and Erin along, but their schedules just don’t line up with ours, or each other – it’s why you’re left waiting until next year to be set to rest in Schoolhouse Bay. I hope you can understand – we’re just as pleased to keep you around with us for now.
I do find myself imagining how nice it would be were they somehow part of the household. After all, we have more than enough to sustain the two of ourselves for a lifetime’s worth of adventures. But I’ve come to accept that the girls are both individually too independent to take up such an offer.
So where can I (or rather, Daniel and I go) on our own? There isn’t much that truly calls to us without companionship. Perhaps someday, when we as a world are released corporately from our year-plus-long house arrest, the church will resume its organized travels to the Holy Land or where the apostles walked, and the two of us can join a group on those pilgrimages yet again – we always did say he needed to see these places (heck, we might even serve as moral support to Scott in getting Jan over her fear of flying, as I believe actually going to these places would do her faith a world of good) as well. But until then, doing anything on an individual basis doesn’t hold the kind of appeal I truly wish it did. Certainly not the way it did when we were all together.
Maybe things will change in the eventual future, but it’s just so hard to see it from this vantage point. And maybe that’s for the best. If we did know what was going to happen, we would probably never be able to live in and enjoy the moment: we would always either be rushing toward that much better future, or frantically building barriers to stave off what we perceived as a bad future. And then, when either future was upon us, we couldn’t look back and remember the past, because we never bothered to experience it when it was the present.
But until that future is upon us, I will let you go. We will talk again.