Grown-up gapping.

“Pinch me!”, “Who would have thought?” have become our catchphrases in an attitude of immense gratitude these past nine months of adventuring.

No more so than these past months has my mantra of “Surrender to the adventure” been a call for the biggest leap of faith ever!

More than ever before, I honestly believe that grabbing an opportunity with both hands is what we must do. Not only because we are now living the shorter part of our lives, but also the wave of viral pandemic that has gripped our planet, has brought home to us a staggering awareness of our mortality. For some, too many, the reality of that mortality has been a tragic and untimely realisation, with or without pre-existing conditions, for which there is no real comfort other than the fact that it is “predestined”, “written in the stars”, “drawing the short straw”, or simply part of God’s divine plan for our species?

As a school leaver, I had the privilege of travelling abroad for the first time, thanks not only to my curious, enlightened, sacrificial parents (neither of whom ever had the opportunity of even leaving the shores of the continent of Africa), but also the Lions organisation who had a youth exchange program in place for those eager to travel abroad. Not only were my sheltered South African eyes opened to many wonderful sights and experiences, I was also taken care of within the shelter of families belonging to the organisation. Having returned, feeling rather worldly, I realised quite a few years later that I had actually been too young to fully appreciate and enjoy the experience of global travel.

My next experience with international travel was as a university leaver, when I felt that I knew all that needed to be known about the rest of the world – how terribly wrong I was! Naivety is something that South African youngsters are susceptible to, perhaps due to the nature of our schooling where hierarchy, seniority and systems are respected, along with mostly growing up in a sheltered society, on the distant end of the continent? Exploitation is not something that I was expecting in the job that I had, since I was beyond grateful for the opportunity to travel and so, I sucked up all that they dished out, rendering me bankrupt on my return to my home country.

What I have gleaned from my first two world travel experiences is that age is the magic ingredient. Mostly, with age comes wisdom, along with a little more financial security, a sense of one’s place on the planet and firmness of faith in oneself and belief system. Therefore, I am a great advocate of the “grown-up gap-year”, in our case months.

At this stage of our lives, not only have we relinquished most of our parental responsibilities, have a stable source of income, in the case of Darling’s long-established profession, re-invented myself in order to be able to earn a bit of pocket money from any remote destination offering a decent internet connection, but we are in a gap in our lives that seems tailor made for ourselves – the “me time” that parents of young children long for!

This phase of our lives, the mid/late 50’s, is ideal for adventuring as, in our case, it falls between seeing our beloved daughters through their tertiary education and on to their own life paths, and before the possible arrival of grandchildren. It is also a phase where we are still physically reasonably fit enough to walk, jog, climb, drive, carry without the need for additional mobility assistance. Undoubtedly the places that one would want to check off that proverbial bucket list, would require a decent level of mobility, strength of immunity and general wellbeing, all of which we are blessed with.

The other wonderful aspect of senior travel is the privilege of a little more patience and a lot more acceptance. As a committed Christian believer, I do not want to come across as either wishy-washy, lukewarm or a fence-sitter, rather that our adventures have given us the opportunities of getting to know other cultures and their religions a whole lot better than from where we were before, in our comfortable bubble of familiarity of belief.

It is in learning about other faiths that I find the strength of my own Christian belief strengthening. To listen to others without wanting to make them listen to me and my point of view is something that my enthusiastic self is still learning to do but, I am getting better at it!

The tragedy of this knowledge is that I have come to realise that ignorance drives prejudice and prejudice drives division: them and us. In this “awakening” or awareness, I am ashamed to admit that I too have lived and judged according to a perception without sufficient insight.

Our unplanned adventure to Turkey for two weeks, in order to be permitted entry into America, gave me a truly Divine insight into the origins of my Christian faith but also into the many parallels between Christianity and Islam. The numbers of churches that have become mosques, and vice-versa in other parts of the world, is indicative of a need to be more accepting and respectful of our differences. It is a call to go a little further to understand the cultural practices of different faiths and how religion and culture are intertwined. That is not to say that I either admire, nor condone some of the less desirable and blatant domination of members of their society, in some of their practices.

The opportunity to spend time with an old school friend, and then also with newer hockey friends, in the heartland of the Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City area of Utah, gave me great insight into what I had viewed with much suspicion as a school child. Realising the way in which our societies marginalised those that are different in their religious views and practices, from our own, humbled me and gave me a more open mind to listen and to actually hear what their faith was all about. I found a fascinating old-world attitude towards family life, honour, service, morality and the acceptance of others, without reservation. In a rather refreshing way, it was evident that their community bonds are strengthening in what is a morally decaying world. Perhaps something of a wake-up call to the rest of the world that we need to return to the principles of faith, family and service before self?

May our adventures continue in harmony with those around us as we learn more and draw closer to one another as one human race.

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