One of the cool things about travel is being able to tell people what you saw and experienced. When I first started traveling (first plane ride was 51 years ago) you either had to wait till you got back, or send a post card, or talk to the people who were actually with you. Nowadays, you can call on a cell phone from almost anywhere and you can share photos and impressions instantly. I like to think I have evolved (mostly) with the times.
Over the more than a half century since my first plane ride, the person I have shared all those trips with was my mom. She was with me when I took that first plane ride (I vividly remember how that TWA jet tilted upwards on takeoff and how cool that was). She loved hearing about my high school trips to the Soviet Union and Greece, my honeymoon trip to Ireland and all the business trips and vacation trips I have taken. She had always wanted to go to Singapore and so it was fun to call her from there in May. I still remember the almost childlike wonder in her voice when I called from the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem the first time I went and told her that I was looking out my hotel window on to the Old City. The “Wow!” that came from her is something I will always remember.
My mom died last week so I will not be able to share those stories with her any longer. She had had five heart attacks over the years, the last two of which were right after Christmas. Last Thursday she had a couple more and it just turned out to be too much. She withstood six, couldn’t get past the seventh.
One of the reasons it was always such fun to share impressions from my trips with her was that she always encouraged me to think about traveling and experiencing as much of the world as possible. She didn’t travel widely outside the US herself; just a trip to Ireland and one or two times across the border into Canada or Mexico. She did take three car trips across the US and pictures from the third of these decorated the walls around her desk at home. But she had an unending curiosity and interest in the wider world and made sure that I would have the same.
I’ve been very fortunate. I went to two good universities, have been lucky enough to have a chance to do meaningful work in Washington for more than three decades, and traveled the world. But when I grew up I didn’t know anyone who did those kinds of things, that’s not the kind of place I am from. But my mom always made sure to tell me that I could do those things and should not feel limited. She took care never to squash any of my dreams, even those that were likely not attainable, like playing in the Major Leagues or competing in the Olympics or being an astronaut or being President. She always had a positive reaction and told me to work toward that. She knew that denigrating any dream, even those not really attainable, was a slippery slope and she made sure the ground beneath my feet was firm. And the example of her commitment to her family is something that I have always drawn upon in my personal life.
One final thing. She left behind 15 grandchildren and three great grandchildren; with a fourth being born the day of her memorial service and a fifth now on the way. Many of those grandchildren wrote (on Facebook; a place I don’t tread) and said some great things about what she taught them. About racial and ethnic tolerance, love of reading and learning, perseverance, and dealing with adversity. These are important things; important, timeless, values. She loved young people and to have all those young people, a half century or more younger than her, say those things is pretty remarkable. If we can all have that kind of effect on the next generations the world will be a better place.
I am fortunate in many things. But it all started the day I was born. RIP Mom.