Life Lessons Learned

Life Lessons Learned

A good portion of this I write over the Atlantic as I fly to England to cook in a Manor Home for some amazing guests on an estate owned by a famous cheese maker. Surely by the time I finish this post I’ll have taken a few more flights counted and a few a new adventures. 

Although seasoned at travel, I still can’t sleep well on a flight, and more and more, I find anything besides reading a good book a waste of time, so I put pen to paper as the gen X'er I am on a tablet and tell another story as I reflect and contemplate on life and weave personal experiences and observations into a narrative that explores the complexities of life, relationships, and self-discovery. I’ll try to capture the nuances of emotions and the passage of time up to my early 40’s. I’ll do my best with a  sense of gratitude and acknowledgment of life's certain, unfailing, unpredictability.

Best memories - With an overwhelming sense of joy, I found myself gazing at the Sky in the southern hemisphere. On one side of me rests my wife, while on the other, my son, nestled under my  arms. An oversized outdoor sofa pillow supports our heads as we recline flat on the deck, beneath the stars in the heart of South Africa. Our journey led us off the conventional path of the usual Airbnb in cape towns busiest and posh neighborhoods, guiding us to Misty Cliffs. Here you’ll find a secluded village of a mere 40 homes perched above the cape of good hope. Only 1 restaurant which also serves as the general store exists here, with nothing else commercial in walking distance. Sometimes the only people you would see all day were surfers every morning from our balcony which looked like ants dancing in a washing machine from high up.  Describing this corner of earth as serene would be an understatement; this place possesses a distinct lack of tranquility. Living by the ocean is a dream of many but one must remember it invites the rhythmic crash of waves, an eternal chorus that defies silence even when the world around it hushes. There is no rest to the weary of the crashing wave. The birds may close their eyes and beaks at night but the pounding of the ocean against the coast never ceases. 

In that particular evening, beneath the celestial canopy and amidst the symphony of waves, a profound sense of meaning enveloped me. True happiness, I realized, resides in contentment with the present and what you already posess. All that truly mattered existed in that shared moment—my loved ones beside me, diminishing the significance of all other cares, dreams, ambitions, and regrets. Against the backdrop of the brilliant stars and the resounding crash of the waves just below our Airbnb, life felt complete.

However, taking the personal connection out of it and focusing on the sky alone - no experience could quite match the night we spent beneath the stars in the Great Karoo several years earlier. Where I learned yet another lesson from nature and the universe. There, the Milky Way stretched before me, an ethereal realm into which I felt woven. We were a part of it, just as we are a fragment within the greater Universe outsides of view of the human eye. Yet, the words falter in encapsulating the sensation of insignificance that washed over me as I beheld this cosmic spectacle. In the outskirts of New York City, a good night might unveil 30 or 40 stars, perhaps a handful of recognizable constellations. In the profound darkness of the Karoo, the stars overwhelm your senses, leaving you awe-struck, speechless, and acutely aware of your own minuscule existence in the grand scheme. This is the truth of our place in the universe, a humbling revelation that mirrors the humility Earth instills upon those who truly observe.

My existence has been a vibrant fabric woven with passion but those realizations of humility persistently accompany me, both in my everyday surroundings and across the diverse corners of the globe I've been fortunate to explore. The perspective I've garnered from people and cultures I've encountered during my travels has been invaluable. People who possess seemingly little radiate happiness, challenging conventional notions. These lessons have marked my journey into my 40s. What I once dismissed as foolishness in my 20s has turned out to be profound wisdom, as those who embrace simplicity and prioritize life's intangible treasures offer the most profound insights.

Regrets are scant in my life's journey, save one poignant lesson: the insufficient time I dedicated to playing with my son during his formative years while he was a small boy. A void I strive to fill with worldly experiences, I rarely say no to the next adventure that we as a family decide on. I want my son to experience it all and lay a foundation of experiences that he can tell his children and build upon at 17 he’s traveled everywhere with us and several solo trips with friends on his own, 38 countries to date. We’ve found the way to make this happen one way or another. Shared experiences and time invested is the most precious gift we can offer to our children and I’m quickly realizing that he will be on his own very shortly.

As far as friends go, people come and go in life. The real ones may not always stick around, but when you reunite years later, you pick up where you left off. There's no need to discuss the gap in time; you just understand that life is full of distractions, both good and bad. You do your best to keep in touch. Life isn’t easy; to say the least, it’s a rollercoaster. Some turns are visible, but others, like going up the hill slowly, we don’t see until the rails are headed in their steepest path. At that point, all you can do is hold on white-knuckled and grin and bear it.

The best relationships say little but understand much with just a look, even after long swaths of time. We know what we went through to get to this point in life. I often think of a recent post I saw describing beauty in later years. At 70, do you see other 70-year-olds as beautiful, or do you still look at that 24-year-old as you did when you were a college student? The answer is unexpected, especially for those of us who have not lived most of our years. One looks at another differently throughout time; in the 20s, it's indiscriminate attraction at the highest level—everything with legs looks good. In the 30s, you see beauty in a different way and know more of what you like. At 40, someone looks more tested and experienced. As you get older, you see a weathered face and that look in the eyes, understanding what that person has been through—life’s good moments, tests of one's soul, life’s punches, and pain. We look almost finished, like a pottery piece that has been to the furnace, set, and tempered. We've lived through the pain, and we are what we are—set in our ways, and nothing besides a drop from high up will break us.

As we get older and learn compassion and empathy, people of the same breed recognize that in each other's eyes, and it gives us pause. Much is said in few words, and old friends, the best of them, get this. I've been fortunate enough to find this in a few friends and, more importantly, in my spouse - never mind finish each others sentences  we can express a thousand words in one look

Life doesn’t get many chances to turn tack when we’ve gone in the complete opposite direction. Fortunately I’ve only made a few small degrees of corrections here and there, I’ve never had to pick myself out of the gutter or reinvent myself. We’ve sailed with the wind at our backs with only a few stalls, and I’m very grateful for this. Did I know that my path would lead to cooking around the world and seeing so much of the world? Not at all, certainly not at 18 when I had yet to be on a plane. However, very happy with the way that I’ve been able to sail into the unknown with the wind changing direction constantly. With the help of my copilot and truly my navigator being able to stay from crashing ashore. .

As I write this, my son, who just turned 17, flew solo days ahead of us to Ireland to travel. Stressed but glad that my wife and my passion for exploring around each corner of this world has been passed into the heart of my son, and writing as well. I love the way he expresses himself in his posts, almost in the same style as me but with his own strong voice. I really don’t know what we did to get him to this point, but everyone who meets him stresses how well we’ve done with him. I couldn’t replicate what we did, like a chef who cooked the perfect meal with no notes. We are truly fortunate, but part of that is the balance of treating him as our son first and friend second. Our son has the ability to read us with one look, as a family of three there aren’t many secrets, there isn’t much we don’t talk about or jest at. He can see the pain in our eyes when we go through lows in life, he can see the concern as well as happiness. I have no regrets raising my son the way we did as husband and wife, we could have done some things better and something’s we could have tweaked, but we didn’t write it down, there was no recipe, there was no ingredient list or method. We eyeballed it and it all came out better than ok. Like a squid ink pasta I made for my wife’s anniversary several years ago, it came out with the perfect bite and silky smooth. I never wrote the method down I eye balled everything. I’ll never make pasta that good again, and nor will I try to; it was just the perfect scenario for that pasta to relax, the mix of the dough, the quality of the eggs, the temperature of the day. I can just guess what went right that day, but I’ll never really know.

Life is like that; somethings go pear-shaped, and we just don’t know what we did to get there. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious what we did. Life could be going well, and we still are waiting for the shoe to drop, wondering how we could be so fortunate. We get one chance at this, and we can read as many books to guide us in the process but life will go as life does.

I often find that writing serves as the best therapy, a manifestation of my goals. Over time, with introspection, I've realized that when I share a goal with others or put it on paper, there's no turning back. It's as if it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; the pieces fall into place to accomplish that goal. All my decisions, whether good or bad, have brought me to this point in life — a point of no regrets, no returns, but with so much adventure left.

What makes me who I am, the good and bad of it all, has led me here, and I own it all. Every wasted dollar on a regrettable purchase, every amazing meal shared with loved ones, every time I've almost run out of gas on the side of the road in a foreign country. Our decisions in life end up being stories to put down on paper or to share loudly over a good meal. Stories connect us with one another, a shared emotion, a shared low point, or achievement in life, even small, makes those connections. Shared fears, shared loves, and interests.

Stories are what I want to continue experiencing in life. I want to be able to recount every last detail while I can. I want to remember what it was like to eat that Lamb Tagene on a rooftop of a Riad so my listeners can taste the flavors in their minds. I want them to smell the spices from the shop I visited in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I want them to experience the fear I had on Safari late at night as well as the peace I had crossing the Sahara on a camel under the mid day sun.

I have a few possessions in life that mean a lot to me, all from my travels with the ones I love. As I've said before, the world can burn, and all I'd miss is these items. They'll be around to pass down to my son, but my stories of life, the dad lore, will as well. When I am no longer here, my jade elephant cufflinks from Thailand, my scarf from the Karen Long Neck Tribe, the glass plate from Murano will be what's left of me, along with my stories and experiences. Each of these objects has a story behind them, and I can tell those stories and paint the picture in the mind's eye over a good glass or two of wine any day to a willing ear. Even so if at a Bar savoring a Martini by myself at my favorite restaurant at seat Bar 1. I’ll recount these in my minds eye and break a smile at the bar and tell the story to anyone willing to listen next to me. Often enough I always find a willful ear.

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