We used to joke that our first trip was the “World Destruction Tour”. Everywhere we went, we seemed to narrowly escape major disasters.
The week after we hiked to Machu Picchu, massive storms and landslides trapped hikers without adequate food and water, and several needed to be airlifted to safety. The terrifying 8.8 earthquake in Chile occurred just hours after we passed through its epicenter (which we, frighteningly, experienced at the base of an active volcano a few hundred miles away). Our time in Cairo conveniently wrapped up months before their revolution began. And our visit to Delhi’s Jama Masjid took place, luckily, a few weeks before terrorists staged an attack against tourists there. We arrive to a Christchurch, New Zealand in shambles, two months after their devastating 7.1 earthquake, only to learn about the deadly 6.3 aftershock that shook the city shortly after we returned home.
We wondered if there truly were a disproportionate number of disasters happening all around us, or if we were just more aware than we would be back home. Since we were actually out, experiencing the world. Some major weather in Peru or a car bomb in India aren’t likely to land on our radar on a typical sunny Santa Monica afternoon. In any case, people started to worry that maybe they didn’t want us visiting their town.
If the last trip was dotted with public catastrophes, this trip, by contrast, seems punctuated by personal tragedies. We’ve witnessed a toddler choking, while her father shook her upside-down frantically and her mother screamed in anguish. We’ve watched a legless woman drag herself down the street, with shoes on her hands and a plastic tray protecting her torso as she slid along the pavement. We’ve seen a man lifting the lifeless arms of his unconscious wife after crashing their motorcycle, wailing in desperate despair while waiting for help to arrive. We’ve stood by feeling absolutely helpless, pained by our inability to do anything.
I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. That every experience of our first trip shaped us into the people we were when we returned home. More acutely aware of the world around us. More appreciative of every waking moment. So it makes us wonder why we are coming face to face with the things we’re seeing this time around. It seems a magnifying glass is being held up to the fact that life is fleeting and fragile and a gift that can be stripped from us at any moment.
What is the lesson in all of it? Compassion for strangers? Living each day to the fullest? Wearing our seat belts?? We’re unsure. But we do know how very blessed we feel each and every day that we are safe, healthy, and together.