Travel, loss and memory

by Steve Brock on August 3, 2016

Panting GingerWhat I’m about to write is unfinished business. I likely should not even share these thoughts until they are better formed and understood. But because I’m wandering in the realm of emotions here, I fear that by the time I gain a more complete intellectual understanding of it all, I will have lost the deeper power and meaning of the experience.


Four days ago, we had to put our beloved Labrador Retriever, Ginger, to sleep. I always thought that expression – putting an animal to sleep – was a euphemism: no one wants to own up to what you’re really doing. But after stroking Ginger’s head as the vet gave her the injection and she gently closed her eyes for the last time, I realize how appropriate the phrase is.

All during the almost 13 years that we’ve had Ginger, whenever a family member would project human emotions or perceived understanding on her, I would say, “C’mon. She’s just a dog.” But as any pet owner of good will and generous spirit learns, that’s not really true. Ginger wasn’t just a dog. She was our dog. And now part of us is gone.



Today I ran into a friend I see every few months. My wife and I have been praying for her husband who has been battling cancer for the last few years. I found out today that he recently passed away.

I think the tears that came unbidden mattered more than any words I could say to her. Tears that flowed easier for me due to my own sadness. If grief were a game of comparisons, I would lose. But it’s not. Grief is instead something we simply share. Something we stumble our way through…together.

My friend said how hard it is now to be only a person, not a couple. To find a task at home that required her husband’s strength. To see an object of his and remember. And then she wondered if that will last: Will she reach a point where she ceases to remember? She worried that she might forget him. I have wondered the same thing about Ginger. But then I assured her she will not. And here’s how I know.


GingerYesterday I walked through the park where we used to let Ginger run free to retrieve a thrown ball or stick. If I had to convey in one single image of what pure joy looks like, it would be Ginger running toward me, stick in mouth, full throttle in undiminished, exquisite happiness.

People refer to “a stab of pain” when a memory hits hard. But it’s more, to me, like a constriction. In your throat, your lungs, your gut. That’s how it was there in the park. The memory came and then a wave of sadness washed over me even as I was beginning to reassemble the pieces of that memory. And slowly, amidst the sadness, the happy time came into focus only to have that overshadowed by the realization I will never see Ginger run with such joyful abandonment again. Pain. Tenderness. Loss. Delight. Repeat.

As I thought about it, the moment reminded me in a very small way of that bittersweet feeling you have when traveling. Where you encounter people and places that move you in ways you didn’t know you could be moved. And then, even as you are wanting to stay forever in that moment, you’re not. You are the one moving. Away. Beyond. Back to a life so unlike what you have just experienced.

I realize that longing from a trip and the death of a loved one aren’t even close in impact and importance. But they do share this: They are feelings, conflicted ones. And both are forms of loss that have taught me something important: how to nurture a memory.

I know how to stay in that moment of deep pain or mere discomfort long enough for it to settle into something more. Something redemptive. Something that, while hard, will eventually reinforce and clarify what is good. And I believe my friend understands this as well.

But if she does not, I will share that with her. For it is in sharing and reminding, of laughing together at the good memories and being there for each other during the hard ones, that we hold onto what we have lost. We will, on our own, eventually lose some of the details and fine points in what we remember. But through each other and the artifacts of life – objects, familiar places, photographs and stories – we will be reminded. Of a sweet smile, a tender touch or in my case, the sheer joy of a dog running with a stick.

We won’t forget.

Ginger and Connor

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At what point are you ready?

by Steve Brock on June 12, 2016

RunwayTravel planning can be as simple or complicated as you want.

Some people need only reserve their plane ticket and resolve the rest as they go.

Others need every room, dining experience, transportation detail and daily itinerary locked down before they leave. Oh, and it would be nice if they could adjust the weather too, but…

There’s no single right way to plan a trip. It comes down to your need for control, your personality type, your comfort with winging it and myriad other issues. But no matter what your planning style, at some point you have to answer this question: “Am I ready to go?”

The answer isn’t simple because implied in that main question is a second one: Ready for what?

To me, I have dig deeper than train schedules, visa requirements and hotel availabilities. I need to do more than just prepare my itinerary. I have to prepare me.

To do this, I have to ask myself (as do you) some tough questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this trip?
  • What do I want to be or become as a result of this trip?
  • How do I want this trip to change me? For example, do I want to be more adventurous? More open? More patient? Less critical?
  • Depending on how I want to change, what will I do on this trip to achieve that goal? And most important, what will I do before this trip to help achieve that goal?

Trips are wonderful learning laboratories. They give us the opportunity to try on new perspectives and even build new habits. We’re away from work and daily routine. We’re freed to experiment and explore. But the learning that they provide occurs best if we seek out that learning and prepare for it.

I’ve got a trip coming up with my family. A big one that includes several countries in a region I’ve never visited. All my reservations – well, most of my reservations – are in place. But am I ready? Not yet.

I’ve not answered all of the above questions yet. Not thought through how to make this trip meaningful not just for me (the one whose done all the research) but also for my family who will show up at the airport with only the faintest idea of what lies ahead.

The irony of travel planning is this. I can spend days or even weeks preparing for a trip, learning about the history and culture of a place. All that has tremendous value. But if I don’t think through some of those questions above, I may come home with a great experience, but not the best one possible. And to me, life’s too short not to pursue the best option.

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The mystery beyond

by Steve Brock on March 27, 2016

Mystery stepsLately, I’ve been curious about curiosity. I’ve wondered about different types of curiosity and how to (and why one would want to) enhance your curiosity. But I’ll be honest. Curiosity, while critical to learning, innovation and discovery, has always felt like the superficial cousin to the deeper concept of mystery.

A curiosity, like the right response on Jeopardy, may be fun to know. But mystery invites us in on a deeper level.

When I travel, I am relentlessly curious. I want to know more about the people, places and cultures I visit. On most trips, my desire to learn remains at the curiosity level. Where I regularly cross over into the world of the mysterious isn’t when I’m exploring some ancient ruin or a dark forest. It’s when I return from my trip.

The greatest mysteries of travel tend to occur after we get home when we’re trying to figure out what the whole trip meant. It is in the return when I have to confront the bigger questions: How have I changed? What do those changes mean for my life moving forward? What have I become and what am I becoming as a result of this trip?

These questions can lead to others (and even, occasionally some answers) that both make complete sense even as they don’t.

Which leads me to today. I write this on Easter morning. I used to see this day not as one of mystery, but of revelation. Mystery was wrapped up in the darkness of the Cross on Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday, in my mind, has always been the bright day when all the answers become clear.

Now, I’m not so sure. As with travel and coming home to confront all that we have learned and are becoming, I think the mystery is just beginning. We’re given enough to grasp the basic story of death, resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life as a result. But for me, what lies beyond the Resurrection now holds the deeper mystery. Not on a cosmic or theological level so much as on a personal one.

Simply put, what does it mean to live in light of the Resurrection?

Easter reminds me that just like returning from a trip, I have to be curious enough to engage the mystery. I have to wrestle with the tension of not knowing. I have to keep pursuing answers even when the questions themselves aren’t clear and to realize that the few answers I do get may be as uncomfortable as they are ultimately satisfying.

So why do I do this? Why pursue the mystery that lies beyond the trip or beyond the empty tomb? Because in the journey, in the struggle through the mystery itself, is where we find life. It’s become almost bumper-sticker trite to say that the value of the trip is found not in the destination but in the journey. But I think the Resurrection reveals to us an added and often missing dimension.

The deeper value is not in the journey on the trip and nor in the destination, but in the journey after the destination. The stone rolled away from that tomb reveals both the completion of one story and the beginning of an entirely new one. The mystery of both travel and the Resurrection is that the journey we thought we were wrapping up is only just now starting. We have entered a place of closure only to find a doorway to a brand new adventure.

It’s a mystery we’re not meant to solve. Instead, it’s one we’re invited to celebrate, be part of, discover – and live.






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