A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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A Cold Hand in the Dark

Nearly everyone has felt the powerful doubts that come on a sleepless night. A friend said: “It’s like a cold hand in the dark.”

Last week I woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t quiet my mind.

At first my thoughts were innocent, as I tried to work out details about the trip. “Should we travel east-to-west or west-to-east? Can we follow the good weather? Are there places we should settle in for a while?” I spent a good thirty minutes shifting pieces of this puzzle in my mind.

Then I felt that cold hand: “Do you really think this trip a good idea? Think about all the things that could go wrong. Think about the risk you’ll be taking.”

It grabbed hold: “What if someone gets hurt or sick? Will we be able to find medical care? What if we get mugged? What if we get separated from one of the kids in a strange city?”

It tightened its grip: “Tsunami. Earthquake. Pandemic. Plane crash. Recession. War.” The future can look pretty grim in the middle of a sleepless night.

Out the window the sky was brightening. It was time to get up, to get the kids off to school. But I couldn’t shake the feeling. Was this trip going to be a terrible mistake?

Throughout the day I tried to understand my anxiety. Was it the uncertainty of the road? The loss of daily routines and household rituals? Of not knowing what we would find when we returned?

I went to my bookshelf and re-read a passage from The Sheltering Sky:

…We think of life as an inexhaustible well… Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really… How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty… And yet it all seems so limitless.”

This triggered another set of thoughts. The friend who’d contracted bacterial meningitis living in a gated community in Florida. He died two weeks after he was diagnosed. The twelve year old in our community, hit by a car a block from his house. The friends whose lives had been turned upside down by layoffs, family illnesses, divorces and who knows what else.

Was it really more dangerous “out there?”

Counter-culture icon Ken Kesey had a motto: “Nothing lasts.” As mottos go, it’s not particularly uplifting. Until you really think about it. Because those two words can lead to a philosophy of life.

When we set aside the false conceits of control and certainty, two choices remain. We can live under a vague cloud of fear, building a barricade of ultimately useless defenses against an unpredictable world.

Or we can accept uncertainty, recognize that life is not limitless and focus on the now. Recessions, tsunamis, pandemics be damned.

We know the cliches. Carpe Diem. Live in the moment. Live like you are dying. How does something get to be a cliche? Is it because there is a core of truth in it?

Nothing lasts.

Not good times or bad. Most of all, not us. Now is what we have.

Nothing lasts. The power that lives in those two words may be the only real defense against the cold hand in the dark and powerful doubts that come at night.


1 Caroline James (the one who is going on this trip!!!) { 01.28.08 at 4:06 pm }

WOW dad this makes me feel real good…….

2 Rick James { 02.01.08 at 2:50 am }

Hah Caroline! That’s nothing… Just wait until you start traveling to hear the incredible wisdom us Dad’s can come up with. You’ll be amazed! Also, feel free to e-mail Alex (my daughter) directly with any questions, or just to shoot the breeze about expectations and experiences. Her address is at the bottom of our main web page. (alex@**********.ca)

3 Rachel { 03.22.08 at 10:41 pm }

Hi fellow intrepid travellers! I see you’ve found us already and now we’ve found you!
Caroline don’t worry about your Dad’s ramblings – 4 months pre-trip is early for the jitters – I had a complete ‘we’re-not-going’ moment the day we left!!
It’s absolutely true nothing lasts, and nothing is predictable, all you can do is prepare a ‘contingency plan’ that you’re happy with. We too have lost friends unexpectedly – one of my husband’s colleagues was killed in a car crash just before we left – his wife and child never now able to take a year off with him. The Pursuit of Happiness is a movie that scared us to death the first time we watched it, but now – jobless and homeless – it’s strangely comforting. Go for it, we have had a blast the last 6 months, the children have blossomed, so self confident, lots of personal goals achieved, and we’ve still got nearly the same again!!
Keep in touch and have fun planning!
Rachel, Chris, Fin and Sadie xxxx

4 shirley { 03.26.08 at 9:06 am }


I have a skull on the windowsill over my kitchen sink. It’s small, handmade, creamy white; it fits nicely in the palm of my hand.

I think it’s the perfect skull, not too big, not too real. Examining it more closely this morning I noticed that the mouth is subtly smiling. Perhaps that’s why it has always felt friendly to me, not threatening.

I don’t remember where I came across the skull. But I know why I claimed it: it acknowledges death, keeps death closer to me, gives death a seat at the table, & helps me feel safer.

An awareness of our individual death awakens in us the power &
creativity of limits. Our life is framed; it has a beginning & an end.

And we are more or less free to create our picture, our dance, our song, our story within that frame.

A few weeks ago, I heard an interview with an author of a recently published book on the subject of what makes people happy, which societies have the happiest people. He interviewed people all over the world .

He asked an old man I think in Bhutan what was the source of happiness. His answer: you must take five minutes each day to think about death.

I share this with you, Craig, because I know you’re already on to it.

5 World Travellers - Part VI » TravelBlog Archive » Pilgrims’ Progress { 05.08.08 at 3:31 am }

[…] unfounded our fears were – for now, it’s been encouraging to see there are others who have little panic attacks in the middle of the night too! Others who are a wee bit scared to talk about their trip! Others who have hit the 196 Days To […]

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