December 10, 2023 | Rome, Italy

A traveler’s advice

By |2022-12-28T17:05:12+01:00December 23rd, 2022|Passport|
Painting by Hungarian artist Pál Böhm.

have celebrated Christmas in seven states and seven countries. Sadly, my family is now gone, wife and child, a story that would take a book, and for years I’ve had to spark whatever revelry I could muster on my own, alone. Sometimes it has been an onerous task.

I remember celebrating together. Of course, never the religion, as none of us, especially me, was religious. We would celebrate a more important concept, us.

I also recognize that I have been lucky to see Christmas sights others only dream of.

I have skated under the Christmas lights at Rockefeller Center in New York City, and wondered at the fairyland of light that was Colmar, France. I have heard Christmas chants in the cathedral at Köln, and the single bell chime rung at San Miniato in Italy. I have listened to the prayer wheel tinkle at the Monastery at Pema Tsal and the choirs at Westminster Cathedral sing the original, German version of “Silent Night.”

These experiences span my decades, during which wars — Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others, even the Cold War — raged on. Africa has been plagued with endless guerilla wars, and countless skirmishes in places like Timor, Nepal, and Kashmir go on without the world noticing much.

Now there’s the Ukraine war.

Make your world small. We can do nothing about the grand things. A castle is difficult to defend, but a home less so.

There are also newer, more valiant wars, the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on cancer, etc. Some wars are evidently good, an unexpected revelation.

Beneath all times, clicking like an eternal metronome, is the annual statistic of each year about three million children dying of starvation, this year, last year, next year, every year. Peace on Earth is a goal always to be pursued but a destination never to be reached.

The celebrations I have been lucky enough to join, and the beautiful sights I have witnessed, have occurred during these turbulent times. In a way, this must always be so since times are always turbulent, a lesson in life old age hammers home.

What my experiences have taught me about this unique time of year is not worth a farthing but I will give it to you anyway. Consider it my seasonal gift.

Make your world small. We can do nothing about the grand things. A castle is difficult to defend, but a home less so.

In many places, I have had to visit as if I were from another planet, open to what I see and hear, but protected from the sharper voices and uglier sights. Within my heart and mind I keep warm my friends, and protect the small space I have in this world. It is true that to some extent my approach insulates me, but turbulent times demand nothing less, and times, as I have already said, are always turbulent.

Find hope with your family. If you’re like me and have none, join your friends. Reach out. We cannot solve the big problems, but we can see Joe home after he’s had too many, and give Alice a hand when she needs to move that armoire, and mow a neighbor’s yard when she’s ill, and look for your daughter’s cat at one in the morning, and even, as monumental as it is, let your husband load the dishwasher the wrong way.

May this season remind you of all this and more, and may others feel the same way about you. May you not feel alone in this beautiful time that falls so hard on so many, and if you know of someone who does, reach out.

Your world need only be an arm’s length wide, but within your grasp you can hold a life, and one day, it might be yours.

Merry Christmas.

About the Author:

Henry Bennett first saw clouds up close when he was 3 years old, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York City in one of the first commercial jets to cross the continent. He has lived in Maui, Hawaii for the last 23 years but still travels far and wide. He wishes people would read more. His latest book is "Brother Mary Michael," published in January 2021.