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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 05-31-24 – A Chance Encounter on Vacation in Maine

Truth be told I work a lot. It has been several years since I managed to take more than a handful of days away from work. Last week, my wife and I traveled to Maine for 8 wonderful days. I really really needed it. We went up to Acadia National Park, which we have not been up to in over a decade. It is a place I have loved since my first trip there at age 10. I hope to go back a few more times in the coming years. On the first night, we stayed over in Portland. My internal clock wakes me up very early, every morning and over the years I have just learned to roll with it, even on vacation. It can work well for me as I am also a birdwatcher and see stuff while Julie is still sleeping. It is also my writing time.


On this first morning in Portland, I went to the lobby of our hotel and was writing in the wee hours of the morning. The desk attendant and I were the only people around. At one point he walked by, and I offered up a morning salutation and we started talking. As the conversation ensued, he asked where we were going and I mentioned Acadia, and I could tell he did not know much about it. He noted he lived in Maine and has for many years but said the farthest he had been was about 30 miles from Portland, a distance I would travel without a second thought for a good meal or a morning walk in the woods.


I asked him where he was from, and he told me he was from Sudan in a way that suggests that most people he tells this to has never heard of it or know what continent it is on. I do know of the history of Sudan and their second Civil War which occurred from the 80s and lasted over two decades. It was a horrific struggle that includes mass genocide. The conflict resulted in thousands of orphaned children with no adults to care for them including 20,000 young boys, known as the Lost Boys of the Sudan. I quickly realized that based on his age and that he noted he was raised in a refuge camp in Kenya relatively close to where my father had volunteered for a decade, that he must be one of the lost boys who had been resettled in the USA.


I let him know that I knew of this history, and I told him of a short movie I used to show to groups of people I worked with as a way to talk about overcoming adversity. The 2006 film, God Grew Tired of Us. It highlights some of the challenges and opportunities in our own culture as viewed from the eyes of children who are genocide survivors. One of the things it shows is how these young boys came to our country from their own experience of starvation and having nothing and no one but each other to care for. They encountered a paradox. They came from nothing but adversity beyond what most of us will ever know in ways that often-created deep bonds of love and joy to be alive. They came here to find a place where most everyone has all their needs met but who lacked the connections within the culture they had been raised in. A nation of bounty filled with relatively unhappy people.


As our conversation ensued, he acknowledged that this had been his experience as well and made note of the movie I told him about. He factually stated that he and I were both near the top of global prosperity. He finds himself complaining when the grocery store runs out of something he wants even as a person raised in a refuge camp with no physical possessions or any living family. He said when he talks with people back in Sudan, they cannot understand what he experienced coming here. The paradox.


Our conversation turned back to a discussion of Maine, and I urged him to find the time to get up to Acadia and experience the wonders of this national treasure on the Maine coast. He said that as a person in his mid-30s, he had never once been on vacation. He has the money to do so but it feels to him like a waste of resources to take time off from work. I suspect that he is one of the thousands of refugees who send money home so distant relatives can have food and shelter. I can understand that from such a perspective a vacation is just pure self-indulgence and beyond contemplation. What a reality check for me.


Julie and I went up to Acadia and had a wonderful time walking on rocks, eating great food, sitting by the ocean, and driving around to see the national treasure that Acadia is. Through our journey, this young man was never far from my thoughts. It took me about five days to decompress. We experienced a relaxing vacation. I was able to experience periods of time with no stress and no worry about the myriads of responsibilities I have in my personal and professional life. What the man reminded me of is just how much a profound luxury such moment are for many people around the world. I was complaining that I had not had a week’s vacation in years until I met a man who has never had a vacation and for whom travel of even a few miles from work and home were rare events never experienced.


I am grateful for the reminder of how fortunate I am and how there is little cause to complain about anything at all.  

What are you grateful for today?

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