308. On the Shoulders of Giants

I recently spent a few days traveling with my parents and younger brother. It was quite a trip: exciting, exhausting, sentimental, and rife with unexpected ups and downs. Tolkien was right: It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. There’s no telling what will happen.

At one point, we had dinner with relatives and a family friend. Our conversations during and after the meal were of a kind common in my family: full of nostalgia, peppered with Spanish, ringing with laughter, and rich in stories of distant times and faraway places.

I heard anecdotes of adventures (and misadventures) in Ecuador, Portugal, Morocco, Fiji, and Antarctica, among other countries. I lounged on a sofa, looking round a cozy room lit by soft lamps, and listened contentedly to wild tales of grass skirts, bus breakdowns, shifty carpet merchants, and thieving penguins.

Penguin!

He may look innocent, but this bird is a stone-cold criminal. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.)

For that one evening, I forgot the quiet, comfortable, soundly American life I’ve lived for the past two years. I remembered places long forgotten: gray beaches strewn with shells and driftwood; low hills studded with weathered trees; water cascading down cliffs covered in moss and ferns; mountains towering green and silent against the sky. As places were mentioned that I hadn’t visited, my imagination filled in the gaps.

Some of the stories that night told took me back decades to a time when the coast of Ecuador, my homeland, was a wilderness. There were hardly any cars or paved roads in those days. People traveled on foot, in canoes, and on rickety buses. My grandfather, a missionary to Ecuador’s coast many decades ago, was a pioneer in his time.

Those conversations opened windows in my imagination and memory, giving glimpses of things dimly seen or half-forgotten.

All of this reminded me of three things.

I am such a softy.

As I enjoy a life of incredible luxury, I often take for granted blessings like clean water, hot showers, fast Internet, video games, a comfortable home, a steady income, a safe neighborhood, and a steady supply of coffee. While I gripe about chilly weather and minor car troubles, a staggering number of people survive in harsh conditions with very few luxuries.

It’s my responsibility to be grateful and generous… and also to toughen up a bit!

I panic over little things.

I feel extremely stressed by small things, from the everyday pressures of my job to minor problems like my Internet connection failing. It helps to recall those tales of risks, perils, and painful misadventures. Things could always be much worse.

I need to keep a proper sense of perspective.

I mustn’t get too comfortable.

I get so comfortable in my quiet Indiana life that I often forgot my all-important purpose of loving people. Love is hard. It leaves behind cozy armchairs, warm lamps, and cups of tea. It braves darkness, cold, and awkward pauses to reach out. Love makes me uncomfortable, but that shouldn’t ever stop me from trying to love people. It didn’t stop my grandfather. It doesn’t stop my parents. I mustn’t let it stop me.

All said, it was quite a trip.

All said, it was quite a trip.

I stand, as the saying goes, upon the shoulders of giants. I’m related to some remarkable people, and they’ve done some remarkable things. As I live out this unremarkable chapter of my life, I mustn’t ever lose sight of the things that matter most—the things I can’t see.

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