My friend is one of those women who manage to address life directly. Trained as a research scientist, she is clear-headed, quick to analyze a problem, look at data, evaluate options, and carefully track the progress of possible solutions. She has a brilliant mind and a memory that can embarrass the rest of us. She bites into life, eager to experience all it can offer and moves on with grace when loss or pain might make others flinch. In the nearly twenty years that I have known her, I don’t remember ever having seen her cry. Until last week.
I had only peripherally followed her plans to take her daugher, son-in-law and two granddaughters to South Africa. She had made the decision quickly. She had already decided that a special celebration for a special birthday might be an excellent idea. She had traveled through much of the world with gratitude and pleasure. Sharing that experience with those she loved was a natural. The mother of her grandsons felt they were not yet old enough for major exploration, and that the anxiety and stress of the trip could far outweigh the joy of such an adventure. But her granddaughters? They were a bit older and another story entirely. They and their parents would love it.
When she examined her bucket list, she realized she longed to go to Africa, to see powerful people and powerful animals in their natural habitat. But Africa could be challenging. What if the next few years brought some difficulty getting around or some other malady that might make adventurous travel less wise? She decided not to wait. The oldest granddaughter, at fourteen, would soon be looking at colleges and her availability could shrink along with her interest in a family vacation. The hour was now.
And so my friend organized the two-plus week trip. Planning through the winter months kept her warm with anticipation. Her husband decided to remain at home. He was always happiest in familiar surroundings. In addition, he feared that the long plane travel was beyond what he, in his six foot plus frame, could comfortably manage. She wanted to go anyway. And so they did.
Soon after her return, we met for dinner. First, in her typical scientist style, she described the structure of the trip – the itinerary. details, guides who she had arranged to accompany them. Hotels. Meals. Events.
And then she began to describe sharing the discovery of the animals. She and her granddaughters were fascinated by their comfort in their natural domain. She described two lions mating. Lioness mothers protecting their cubs. Elephants so close they could almost touch them. The leopard in the tree. Their astonishment at the wonder of a world they had not known. A world where man and beast live side by side with respect and without fear. A world where instincts guide behavior and life takes care of itself without man’s intervention. A world that totally captivated her granddaughters. That was when the tears trickled down the sides of her nose, onto her cheeks. Tears of wonder. Tears of joy. Tears of gratitude that she was able to share these discoveries. Tears of love. Love is real.