I do not want to spend the last days of my life, whenever they may arrive, wishing I had done more...seen more....I want to smile and say, "Hell, I'm full...."
I guess it may seem strange to some, or even unintelligible, not to make sure my "Golden Years" are secure. Maybe it is, or maybe I just see it differently. I want a lifetime of memories, of friends met, places seen, experiences had. That, to me, is my nest egg. A lifetime of journeys, and moments spent, not saved. I want to taste life, experience it, not stow it away for a rainy day. On rainy days, I want to be out in the muck, sloshing in the puddles, laughing about it, and playing with the ducks. One of my great joys in life is to try new things, a journey in an open cockpit bi-plane, a stroll on the Great Wall, and a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti. All memories packed away for later years, placed intently into my retirement fund.
Life is short for humans, even less for gnats...
There will never be an excuse to keep me from the rest of the world. There are never too many bills to pay, or not enough time. All I have is time. The feeling I get on an open highway, in years past with my Harley, looking East, then West...closing my eyes for a moment, until I feel the pull of where I will go...and rolling forward with nothing but a few bucks, a whim, and some inspiration, is nothing short of complete satisfaction in a life well spent. I am off to see the wizard, by God!
Today, with the motorcycle gone to help pay for more photo gear (I can always buy another one...), the plane is there waiting to take me to my next fantasy. A different kind of highway, but a highway nonetheless. I'll never forget flying, late at night, somewhere over Egypt, gazing out the window and watching a shooting star dance across the night sky. I smiled, and knew then, that the safari in East Africa I was off to was destined to be remarkable. The travel Gods had so designed it! And you know what? It was more than remarkable; it was almost beyond the power of description.
I have cherished friends around the globe, and cherished memories that accompany each of them. My friend Ngochi, in Kenya, who helped me with the most perfect photo ops I could imagine, who helped me to understand the inhabitants of this completely fascinating land, from the tiniest birds, to the mystical Maasai. It was "Goch", as I called him, who drove me for miles into the bush, to visit a remote Maasai tribe, photograph them, and truly experience them. It was also Goch who told me how to best get my wildebeest bones aboard the aircraft for the journey home...I sensed he knew the outcome...that rapscallion! Looking back, I should have noticed the smile he suppressed while telling me it would be fine....
And in all fairness, it was.... AFTER four armed guards took me in the back of the gate to let me know it was "An Offense!" Of course, after a few shilling, it was not so much an offense, as it was a Shakedown! But I also sensed he knew what the outcome would be, and I laughed after I was through the checkpoint, a few shillings lighter, a few bones heavier, and another story to laugh at. I remember his laughter, as well as the seven flat tires we had while crossing Kenya in that carnival ride of a truck. Life is good.
My friend Mike Li, living with his family in Beijing, in the Hai Dian district, far away from any of the area tourists spots that bring throngs of visitors to this wondrous city. I remember their joy at receiving a foreign guest in their home, and how proudly they marched me through the neighborhood to show off their American friend! And I remember being led into the living room by Mike's Mother and Father, each holding an arm, laughing and chatting away as they brought me to the table, filled with tasty bites of food, and a fresh pot of special Green Tea.
I sat there for hours, as Mike translated for his parents. I learned how Mike's Dad had been separated from his family, for many years, while he toiled in the mountains for Mao, and I learned how his Mother picked out special fabric and had her own tailor make a shirt especially for my wife back home. I learned much from my Chinese friends, and I think the most important lesson, we already knew...and that is how far a smile goes between two peoples who do not understand each other's language.
I remember a little old peasant woman, laughing at my long braided hair in Xi'an, and laughing even harder when I shook it, and offered it to her to shake, which she did! The smiles, and laughter were priceless. We are not governments trying to negotiate, we are merely people trying to live...and storing up memories for a life well spent.
I remember the Parisians who helped me in the train station, who translated for me when they too seemed in a hurry...yet they took the time to help another...and the lady at the station in Bayeux, who also took the time, to see that I was pointed in the right direction in her beloved country. She could have easily ignored the fact I was hopelessly confused with the train schedule, but she chose not to, she chose to help me, and she chose to smile as she did.
I once read that God made France the most beautiful country in the world, and to keep the rest of the world from being jealous, God created the French. Well, as I watched the caretakers in the American Memorial Cemetery meticulously tend to our fallen brothers grave markers near the beaches of Normandy, I sensed that God did pretty good with the French.
Of course, in memories, we must also harbor the sad ones as well. I wish I could forget the feelings I had when I walked towards the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, only days after the explosion rocked so many lives. Looking at the shattered windows FOUR blocks away from the site, I realized the scope of the devastation. I felt humbled by the noble people, still working frantically to find survivors, and as I thought of the many innocents, especially the children, I cried as I looked upon that malevolently ravaged building. Once again, tears flowed, as I looked in utter disbelief at the ruins of the Trade center from the viewing platform, at what was then commonly known as "Ground Zero".
I held my wife, and thanked God I was able to, and thought of the many who no longer could. It brought back the memories I had of that horrible day, Sept. 11th, as it was evening on the Yangtze River, in China, when with a small group of Americans, huddled around a TV, those events unfolded before us. We sat in horror as we tried to make sense of the broadcast in Chinese, and the chilling images of the Trade center burning, and eventually collapsing.
When they re-played those images of the planes hitting, the young Chinese girls who were with us, sat in horror, as they tried their best to translate to us what was happening within our homeland. We could not understand much they said, through their tears, but we knew it was tragic. As the days unfolded, I remember strangers approaching me in the streets of Chonqing, Xi'an and Beijing, asking if I was American. After replying that, "yes, indeed, I was..." they proceeded to tell me how sad they were at the news of these tragic events, and how "You are safe here, the Chinese people will protect you..." Even months later, at my desk writing this, I am flooded with emotion recalling these kind people. This feeling will be with me forever.
I also remember the feeling I had while I walked into a remote store, deep in Navajo reservation land, to pay for some gas and supplies... the feeling I had when the room went silent, and I felt hot and uncomfortable under the glazing stares of these proud people, looking upon me as an intruder on their land, still echoing the hatred and contempt of another generation. They looked upon me as if I were the one who killed their ancestors. I felt complete humility, and complete shame, for those that decimated this culture in the name of progress, albeit truly in the name of ignorance. How the west was won? How it was stolen is more apt.
At that moment, I believe, I looked through that open window of opportunity, and had an ever so small glimpse of how a black man might have felt in Jackson, Mississippi in years past, and even today. To be the focus of such fathomless hatred must be horrible.
But truthfully, memories are the moments that make us who we are. I am glad to feel anguish at racial hatred, it lets me know I am a decent man. I am proud to look at all my friends, from all over the world, and not see color or nationality, but only friends. I am on my way, headlong into a great journey, already in progress actually. I have been on it for many years, and will continue to be...I am on the journey of a life well spent.
by Mark Dickey