Air Canada flight 2019 touched down gently along the runway in Dublin, Ireland. We taxied to the gate and passengers jostled about, foraging and releasing stuffed overhead compartments.
Through the plane’s window, I spied the distant green hills of Ireland. Home to my long-deceased maternal grandparents. Finally, after a lifetime of excuses, I made it to Ireland.
I was traveling with my wife, 18-year-old son, brother-in-law, his wife, and their two young daughters. All of us are light packers, with only one carry-on bag and a small satchel apiece. Well, except for my brother-in-law’s guitar, in its bulky protective case. He’s part Irish and feels naked without his guitar close by.
Filing out of the airport in search of a Dublin taxi, we looked like ducks lined up in a row. Following one after another, with our rolling luggage cases in tow.
Travel, the necessary evil
A lot of people wax poetic about the wonders and joys of travel. Much of what they say is true. You’ll experience new things, places and cultures.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. “— Saint Augustine
Your foreign trips will produce memories and moments that will last a lifetime. It will fill you with creative ideas and inspire your artwork. But let’s be clear. Travel involves a lot of work and inconvenience.
One must plan out an itinerary, save the necessary funds and set about packing intelligently. Absent a lot of travel experience, you just never pack exactly as you wish you had. Even for a minimalist packer like me, something is always included that you don’t need, and something you do need will be left behind.
Then there are the joys of airport security, with lines and crying children and every manner of humanity nearly stripping to stand spread eagle for security scanners.
There are paperwork and passports and foreign currency to comprehend. Not to mention overpriced airport food and plane bathrooms built for hobbits.
Let’s not forget the annoying passenger next to you, who either talks your ear off or snores the whole flight. Usually, next to a screaming child.
Add to these indignities the fact that I get claustrophobic on planes and don’t like heights. Yes, my doctor can prescribe “a little something” to take the edge off. Problem is, I never lose sight of the fact that I’m essentially sitting in a small sofa chair, hurtling across the sky at 600 mph and 37,000 feet high. Sounds almost dreamy, until the severe turbulence kicks in over Greenland.
Even CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, in his book “Dispatches From the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival,” acknowledged that some aspects of travel can be no fun. Yet he argues that stressful moments and inconveniences are part of the whole experience. Every good story requires a bit of tension, and every trip is made memorable by the ups and downs.
Travel is a necessary evil because the payoff is worth all the trouble. Travel broadens our perspectives and educates us about the world and how other people live. Travel reminds us of how small we are.
Most importantly, travel separates us from the dead people among us.
I meet dead people every day
Twenty-six years of police work has introduced me to a wide variety of people. From kind and heroic to cruel and sadistic. Interspersed among them are some of the saddest. I call them, “The dead people.”
We encounter these walking zombies every day. People who are going through the motions in life but don’t know why. People who gave up on their dreams or let life beat them down.
They abandoned their bodies and physical health. Maybe they felt the world owed them something? Or they just got tired of waiting for things to change. They became bitter and negative.
There is no judgment here. Any one of us, at any time, could become sidetracked. A death in the family. A divorce. An illness. Such tragedies and challenges in life happen.
Fortunately, with determination, professional help and the support of family and friends, we can rebound. But some people remain mired in their own unhappiness. They drown in it, as if stuck in emotional quicksand.
In Richard Paul Evans’s book, “The Walk”, a kind woman who works in a diner shared this nugget of wisdom:
“I meet dead people at the diner every day. People who have given up. That’s all death requires of us, to give up living. The thing is, the only real sign of life is growth. And growth requires pain. So to choose life is to accept pain. Some people go to such lengths to avoid pain that they give up on life. They bury their hearts or they drink themselves numb until they don’t feel anything anymore. The irony is, in the end, their escape becomes more painful than what they are avoiding. Ultimately we decide whether our lives are good or bad, ugly or beautiful. Some people in this world have stopped looking for beauty, then wonder why their lives are so ugly. Everyone carries divinity in them. Only through helping others can we save ourselves.”
The luck of the Irish
When people joke about the “luck of the Irish” they often overlook how unlucky the Irish were. Whether facing foreign rulers or internal battles between Protestants and Catholics, the Irish have experienced their fair share of bad luck. But here’s the amazing part. The Irish somehow retain this wonderful pluck and cheerful, upbeat attitude. It’s infectious.
Visit an Irish pub and listen to the music. Watch as the old and young alike hoist pints of Guinness and sing their songs of country and loss and love. The Irish are happy people, despite the struggles and hardships of life. They just choose to be cheerful.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s too hard to “just choose to be” happy. Certainly, some days are better than others. I don’t think a constant state of happiness is possible.
Bad things come along as well as good things. However, one thing I saw consistently in Ireland was a charitable spirit. Young folks helping old folks. People holding doors open. Motorists rarely honking at one another. And there were pots of colorful flowers in just about every window I passed by.
There’s a secret ingredient that will insulate you from becoming one of the living dead. That ingredient is a charitable heart.
To develop a charitable heart, you have to stop thinking about yourself and seeking attention all the time. I think many of the Irish have figured this out, and that’s why they’re so cheerful.
Wisdom from a Benedictine Monk
In author Tony Hendra’s poignant book “Father Joe” we meet a kindly, stuttering, Benedictine monk who maintains a lifelong friendship with Hendra, offering pearls of wisdom throughout.
Listen here as Father Joe offers Tony Hendra some sound advice:
“Feelings are a great gift, but they’re treacherous if that’s all we live for. They drive us back into ourselves, you see. What I want. What I feel. What I need. A man and a woman pass beyond just feelings at some point, don’t they? That’s when they start to know true love. The love of another. The joy in another’s existence. The wonderful ways that the other person is not like you, nor you like them. What you said about the p-p-prison of self you felt you were in-that was very exact. Love releases you from the p-p-prison, you see.”
Father Joe goes on with this additional gem:
“What you must ask yourself, Tony dear, is this: do you do the work you’ve chosen with joy and gratitude? Do you do it conscientiously? Do you do it for others first and yourself second?”
In Ireland, I saw a lot of kind-hearted people going about their work conscientiously, with joy and gratitude. Just about every one of our cab drivers was outgoing, cheerful and talkative.
The repairman in our hotel took the time to say hello and ask me how my trip was going. The bus drivers and train conductors were equally helpful and kind.
It’s like they all found the divinity in their work, which is far more important than one’s station or wealth or fame. They found joy in doing their work well, and helping others along the way.
Not that the Irish are immune from the walking dead. I did see some sad souls and unhappy people. But on balance, the ratio of upbeat and charitable people was much greater.
How to raise the dead
At the moment I’m gutting it out again at 36,000 feet, on my return flight home from two splendid weeks in Ireland. The people of Ireland reintroduced me to this notion of upbeat work and charity towards others. It’s something I want to refine in my life.
Having read Tony Hendra’s “Father Joe” on the flight to Ireland, I now know that the best way to help the “dead people” I meet every day is to show them kindness and love.
Sometimes the simplest acts of charity and kindness can create a positive spark in a wayward soul. A smile or door held open for others reminds them that they matter.
I also learned from Father Joe to focus more on creating my artwork with joy, gratitude, and conscientiousness. Remembering to not make it about me. Make it about others. Create art to bring joy to others.
Look past the ugliness in the world, and learn to see the beauty.
So you see, all this from a two-week trip to Ireland. I still hate flying and all the attendant headaches of travel. But would I do it again? Absolutely.
I hope you find the time to travel more, and nurture the kind of cheerfulness our friends in Ireland demonstrate. Also, develop a charitable heart. Do these things, and you’ll avoid becoming one of the living dead, and help to create a better world for everyone.