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Lessons Learned From Older Travelers
Dear Savvy Traveler,
The tension I had been feeling since September 11th seemed to fade a little with each mile of the drive along the Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West. Crossing the Seven Mile Bridge, I could almost believe that life in America was still safe. By the time I reached eccentric little laid-back Key West, I felt far removed from bomb threats and security checks. Here at the southernmost tip of the continental United States, where the Atlantic meets the Gulf and Route 1 comes abruptly to an end, anthrax and crop dusters didn't seem possible.
Unlike most travelers to "Margaritaville", I was here on a work assignment. As Director of Elderhostel programs for Barry University, I was to meet up with a group of 30 men and women, aged 55 and older, who were coming to Key West from all over the country for a travel-and-learn experience. Amid the uncertainty about the terrorists' next moves, I expected there would be some last-minute cancellations and I was concerned about the state of mind of those who did come. How much reassurance would the group need and what could I honestly tell them?
The hostelers began to arrive, on schedule, and there were no cancellations. From my vantage point at our registration table, it was clear they were in very good spirits. Most had driven into town, but some had flown in and a few had come by bus. Standing in line to register, they were smiling and chatting, becoming acquainted. They looked like any of our other groups prior to September 11th. It was then that something clicked for me. I realized that every one of them had been through troubled, even terrifying times before - and more than once. They had lived through at least one world war, a depression, a holocaust. Through Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. Through the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King. Through polio, Hitler, and the Bay of Pigs.
One 66-year-old gentlemen, decked out in Bermuda shorts and knee-high socks no doubt originally purchased for some vacation many years earlier, told me that despite the unfamiliar sight of armed guards in army fatigues patrolling the airport, he and his wife had not been at all afraid to fly. In fact, he said the added security made them feel safer than ever. A woman in her seventies, traveling solo, announced that this was her 44th Elderhostel program and that she fully intended to keep on going. Others in the group were almost vehement in their determination not to be "frightened out of travel", although one person confessed she probably wouldn't be heading abroad for a while.
There obviously was no need for me to get into cheerleading mode. This was a feisty group intent on demonstrating their belief that life should be lived to the fullest. Yes, they acknowledged that this is a new kind of war with an unpredictable enemy much closer to home. And they didn't deny some feelings of trepidation. But the fear had not stopped them. In fact, it seemed to have become a driving force, a call to make the most of the present.
At dinner that first night, I felt a need to thank them for their vivacity, for their courage. I looked at their 60-, 70-, 80-year-old faces alert with excitement for all they were about to learn and do in the coming days. Far away in Afghanistan, the coalition was launching its first bomb strikes on Kabul. In Key West we were sharing pictures of grandchildren, checking to see if anyone played bridge, looking forward to dessert, and arranging field trips to Hemingway's home and Truman's Little White House.
Far from having to be a comfort, I found comfort in being with them. Savvy travelers? Perhaps. Savvy human beings? Absolutely. Admittedly, these gutsy folks may not represent the majority of their generation or, for that matter, the majority of any generation. By the very fact that they had decided to travel now, they had distinguished themselves. It was only a few hours since I had met them, but they had already taught me much - about the resilience of the human spirit, about the preciousness of each moment of our lives and about the perspective only time can bring.
Judith W. Hochman, Ed.D.
School of Adult and Continuing Education