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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 6-30-23 – To be in Alba

Be happy while you’re living, For you’re a long time dead.” – Scottish Proverb

I have been thinking of late of travel, and not the work-related kind, but leisurely travel. A form of rest, rejuvenation, and exploration. The stretching of our horizons to experience new things. I happen to have a favorite place to travel in the world. Alba in Gaelic, or Scotland as more commonly known. My connection to this special land is through Julie. When studying at the Tyler School of Art, she had the opportunity in her youth to spend a summer studying with the Glasgow School of Art. She traveled around the highlands and other regions with art students from across the US.

Travel can change the trajectory of a young life. A correlate for me was when, in early recovery I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work in France. I was broke but managed to scrounge for an airline ticket and a few dollars for incidentals. It was all I needed. I met people from a different culture and did service work. While there, I celebrated 9 months of recovery at the American University of Paris on the west bank of the Seine. Around that moment, I realized that my horizons could expand broadly beyond the canyon of addiction I was trapped in.

An unexpected treasure of my life is having the opportunity to travel on a few occasions to some special places on this earth. We have had some amazing experiences. All of this, for me, is a gift of recovery. A life stable enough to have a relationship and the opportunity to see things out in the world were not in the cards before recovery.

I don’t recall when Julie mentioned a dream to return to Scotland. A wish that whoever she married would honeymoon with her and see the special places she had experienced. As our relationship deepened it became clear that both her heart and Alba were in the cards for this lucky young man. She said yes. We planned a wedding and a trip to Scotland.

One of things I love to do is study and learn about things, and from this first trip on, I invested time in learning the history and geography of the places we planned to visit. I like to understand the history of a place and what occurred there over time. Alba has a lot of it, including neolithic remnants of cultures erected thousands of years ago. Scotland is one of the richest places in the world to experience this kind of history. On that first trip, we learned about defensive structures called Brochs as well as remnants of a people called the Picts who had lived an age ago.

To provide a sense of how very rich the land is in respect to history, on our first visit to a Northern Island chain known as the Orkneys, we walked across a field nestled in between some of the most amazing neolithic heritage sites in the world. A few years later, they dug up that very field in the Ness of Brodgar and it has changed the understanding of ancient Britan. They uncovered an ancient complex of temples that was the center of a civilization. I wonder what else we unknowingly walked over while there. We have visited Scotland four times together. I hope to return at least once more.

Over the course of our lives together we have been drawn to the far spots. Drop us in any place and we find the most northern point. The place farthest away from settlement. The place of desolate beauty. Deep appreciation for such places is something we both possess. It may stretch back to those early days.

Our last visit there was in 2014. Since we met, this is the longest we have ever gone without a return. On that visit, we stayed at a hotel in Ullapool. Julie accidentally locked me out on an exposed cold balcony. It took a staff intervention to free me. She found this much more humorous than I. While in the area, I spied a section of road we had never been on. I can’t resist an untraveled road. We started out to see what the area (pictured here) looked like. We ran out of time and had to get back for a dinner reservation. One of my bucket list items is to see the rest of that road.

One of the things that make childhood special is that the world is a place of exploration and wonder. As we move into adulthood our sense of wonderment is replaced by everyday experiences. We normalize wonder in ways that perhaps we should not. If you don’t think so, go ask a person at the end of their life what they want and quite often you will hear that a day spent with family or friends doing what at the time seemed so average are the moments they want to repeat.

This is something to consider today, at least for me. So, I hope to get back to Scotland some day with my bride. How it may come to pass is not clear, but perhaps it will. Even if it does not, nothing can take away those magical trips that changed our lives and drew us closer together. In the meantime, we have a lot of special other moments to share, the regular days are to be treasured too. All things I am grateful for this gratitude Friday.

What are you grateful for today?

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