“Just let me know when you’ve arrived…” Those words are spoken, in the most casual manner possible, by every parent when one of their offspring goes off on an adventure. The apparent nonchalance masks all sorts of worry, panic, imagined scenarios and disasters, even though you know they are no more than chimera.
He’d booked everything at budget prices, so there was no direct flight. At stopover of five hours in Muscat would not allow him to see anything of the place and just added to the fatigue of the journey. But, when you know they have landed in foreign climes, (because you are watching the live flight updates, and they are now running nearly a further six hours late) and the phone remains silent for an eternity, the real panic sets in. Especially when said offspring is travelling with a wheelchair.
By the time you actually hear from them, the simple fact that they are alive and able to get in touch is enough. Then you hear about the wheelchair and mobility equipment lost in transit… the phone that ceased to function, the inaccessibility of taxis and public transport… the fact that without the lost mobility equipment, there is no way they can stay in the backpacker’s hostel they have booked…
Basically, it is a horror story unfolding. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, fatigue has set in and it seems as if the adventure has become a nightmare within hours of leaving London.
India had always been on the list, somewhere near the end. Not because it was a place he didn’t want to visit… he did, very much… but everything we had read about travelling in India suggested that it was something a wheelchair user, who is unable to walk, could only do easily with help, a fair amount of money to cover good hotels and transport, and plenty of travelling experience.
This particular son, though, has this knack for doing the unexpected. By the time I hear from him properly, he has been reunited with the wheelchair at least.
When everything went wrong, and instead of catching the next flight home or booking into a nice, reputable hotel until he can sort himself out… he entrusts himself to a total stranger and wanders off into the night with nowhere to stay…
…and there has been a slight change of plan. Instead of staying sedately in the relative safety of New Delhi for the duration of his holiday, in the continued absence of his mobility equipment, he has parked the wheelchair in an office and found a driver…
…and he is about to leave on a five thousand mile odyssey around India. As things turned out, he would end up travelling in cars, jeeps, rickshaws, and boats, on camels, elephants, horseback and pillion on a Royal Enfield motorbike.
He rose at dawn to watch the sun rise over the mountains and falls of Kerala, swam in the sea off Goa, bought me a saree in Jaipur, attended a wedding in Delhi, was blessed by a Brahmin in Holy Pushkar, was kissed by a sacred cow, and sent lotus candles floating down the Ganges in Varanasi.
Except for one night at Athirappilly Falls, he slept in cheap hotels, or in the home of his guide and on one occasion, in a taxi.
He had banquets cooked for him by housewives, ate street food, fish fresh from the net and giant Kerala prawns the size of lobsters… and somewhere along the way, managed to get over dysentery.
He watched dolphins and monkeys, caught a glimpse of a tiger, took the wheel of a houseboat, hauled in the Chinese fishing nets in Kerala and saw all the beauty of heaven on earth.
Thousands of miles and photos later, he’d had what would have been the trip of a lifetime for anyone. For someone in my son’s position, it was amazing. The people he met looked after him in ways no-one could have expected. The complete disregard for the twin gods of Health and Safety allowed him to do things he could not have imagined being able to do… and yet his wellbeing was held paramount by all those who decided to help him.
And none of it would have happened if everything had gone according to plan. There was a moment of choice… run away, take the safe route, or let the moment unfold and take a chance on the unknown.
It was risky… you would have to hear the whole story to know just how risky… but sometimes it is better to let go of plans and expectations and go with hope.
As we go into a new year, with hopes, dreams and with resolutions and plans in place, we can all get caught between the tramlines of expectation and design. There is nothing wrong with having all your plans carefully laid and working towards a goal… but sometimes, focussing on a single goal can blind us to possibility.
If we fail to realise that goal, it can leave us frustrated, disappointed or in despair at our own failure or life’s apparent refusal to respond to our efforts. Leaving the doors of possibility open allows us to see a wider landscape of opportunities. If we miss the one we are aiming for, perhaps there is another close at hand. Nick likened it to fishing… and the difference between baiting a hook and line to catch one fish, or throwing out a net and seeing what swims in.
My son, whose experience of life knocking you down is pretty extreme by any standards, believes that when life does knock you down, it is only because there is something better waiting in the wings… you just have to be ready to ride the opportunity as it arises.