My grandpa is 73 years old and exactly 40 years older than me. Five years retired and seven years divorced, he lives alone in a motorhome and goes where the wind takes him.
Named Newell at birth, most of his friends call him Newt. I and most of those who have come to know him throughout our adventures simply call him Gramps.
Over the course of the last several years, I have had the great fortune to travel the world with him. We’ve crisscrossed the South Pacific, retraced our ancestral roots through the US, and driven the entire length of the Baja peninsula. We have been to more than one war zone, the international chili championships, and seen the world’s largest ball of twine.
Just back from our third trip to Mexico, in which we were witness to a Sonoran shootout between a Mexican drug cartel and federal soldiers (and this not even our most memorable trip south of the border) I found myself in a bit of a post-trip funk. You may know the type: pre-trip expectations far exceed reality as Gramps and I almost die, and we are both just as happy to get back as we were to leave. And maybe sometimes that’s one of the most valuable aspects of leaving, simply the contentment granted upon returning.
I grabbed a Miller Light from the MoHo and a half-smoked joint, and walked out into the dessert. Halfway through the former I was set to quit my “job” as a full-time yoga leader, bail on my relationship, stop smoking weed, and do something…anything. Something bold.
It’s an itch I am not unfamiliar with and one that (in the past) might have typically been scratched by one of three means: pussy, drugs, or physicality. I have been at various times a womanizer, a pot-head, and a meat-head.
My grandpa, on the other hand, is your classic measure twice-cut-once kind of guy. Like some, he is wise and speaks seldom. Like few, he is as present with a person as with his iPhone 5. And I have personally seen him as content in the middle of a blizzard as he is in the middle of the dessert surrounded by topless women half his age (Burning Man).
He is the kind of man who, as I write this, is catching up on the three days worth of crossword puzzles he missed while we were dodging bullets in Puerto Penasco, Mexico. A trip in which he endured both the world’s worst fish and chips and a handful of headless bodies with his trademark santosha.
Gramps has never once given me advice or offered an opinion, but has nevertheless taught me everything I know that is good. A man who, like my yoga practice, and the dessert I found around me upon our safe return to the Phoenix, helps to pause the voice in my head most affectively by simply not adding anything un-solicited to it.
When I am with my Grandpa, as I am when I am on my mat, I am made acutely aware of how much I tend to talk, (sometimes out loud).
By his silence and the dessert’s, the “I cant’s” and “I want’s,” the “I quit’s” and “fuck this,” were replaced with time by a measure of quiet all my own. And in place of the running commentary, an oasis of calm emerged, and from it a well-spring of contentment and a verse of gratitude.
It is a little childish, but that is one of the things I love most about getting to travel with Gramps. Because no matter where we go or what we encounter or endure, for a while (sometimes a few days, sometimes a few months, sometimes for just a few treasured moments) I get to stop being a teacher and a leader or a boyfriend and a brother, and all of the other identities that I am, to connect with the contentment required in simply being a grandson.
If mountains show,
and rivers know
and oceans abound—
For all grandpas and all grandchildren. Christmas, 2013: Phoenix, AZ – Puerto Penasco, MX – Phoenix, AZ: 620 miles.
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