January 29, 2022

How Trusting the Challenges of Life can Help us Grow. {Part III}

Read part I: Trusting our Intuition is key to Feeling Safe. {Part 1}

Read part II: How Feeling Safe can Sometimes be an Illusion. {Part II}


After leaving Montana Redonda in the Dominican Republic, we had every expectation that the worst was behind us at this point.

We were bullied and harassed by the men at the scooter rental shop, I then had an emotional meltdown minutes after leaving, we experienced a harrowing journey on the scooter involving machine guns and endless highways, and lastly, I alienated my wife by making a stupid comment about picture taking. We had made it through all of this and felt that the rest of the day just had to go better.

We were so wrong.

We had been on the road for about 10 minutes when I noticed a slight hesitation in the scooter. It was as if I had let go of the accelerator for a second and then resumed the speed. I looked down at the gas gauge and it read that we had over half a tank of gas. I thought to myself, wow, these little scooters get amazing mileage!

Then it happened again. The hesitation of the motor lasted a bit longer, but we kept going. I looked at the gauge again and thought, wait a minute, the gauge hadn’t moved from when I checked it hours ago, but it says over half full!

My wife shouted over the motor noise, “What’s happening?” I said, “I don’t know, it’s like we are running out of gas, but the gauge says we are over half full.” But the writing was on the wall, and the motor jerked between life and death. We slowed more and more until it finally died, and we coasted to a stop on the side of a mountain highway, in the middle of nowhere, on an island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

I could feel the universe laughing at me. The emotions I thought I had left on top of the mountain, along with the abandoned elephant, had somehow managed to hitch a ride on our scooter, and there I was, shaking.

I could feel the world close in around me; I could feel the fear starting to circle around me, getting closer, just like the men at the rental place. What was I going to do? How are we ever going to get home? How could I let this happen? I’m supposed to know what I’m doing, right?

When traveling to the mountain, we hardly saw a car on the road the whole time. Suddenly, I could see us hours in the future, pushing this scooter on a highway in the pitch-black darkness of the island countryside. I was terrified.

We began looking at the scooter, trying to figure out where the gas tank was to verify if we were out of gas or if something else was happening. We poked and prodded and felt around everywhere to figure how to access the tank. It had to be under the seat we determined, but how do we get at it?

Meanwhile, we saw a few cars pass by, but no one stopped. I was embarrassed to even humble myself to wave someone down. I kept searching for the tank.

Then, in the distance, we could hear the sound of another small motor scooter coming toward us. From around the mountainside came a young man, probably in his early 30s, buzzing along on his scooter. He was well dressed with a white button-down shirt, dress pants, and clear plastic bags covering his shoes. Both of us stared as he drove closer.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my wife raise her hand and wave at the man. I was simultaneously nervous and relieved that she had done it. And just then, the man had glanced over, slowed his engine, and coasted to a stop near us.

We both said, “Hello! Thank you for stopping.” The man smiled widely and began speaking quickly in Spanish. I managed to piece out a few words like nada gasolina and motocicleta. We exchanged many hand gestures pointing at the bike, pointing down the road toward Punta Cana. He spoke absolutely no English. Nada.

He paused and began to tell us to do something. We had no idea what he was saying. He kept pointing at our scooter, then at his scooter, and then he would stick his leg out. I looked at my wife, and she shrugged. I managed to say, “No entiendo,” remembering this to mean, I don’t understand.

Feeling him getting a bit frustrated, he pointed at me, he pointed at my wife, then he pointed directly at our scooter seat. Realizing he wanted us to sit on the bike was clear, but we didn’t know why. We quickly put on our helmets and got on the scooter.

He walked over to his scooter, jumped on, and started his motor. He motioned to use to move our scooter around in the direction he was pointing. As we made our turn and coasted a bit downhill, he revved his motor, stuck out his foot, and started pushing us!

I was stunned at what he was doing. In all my years as a youth riding motorcycles, I had never once considered pushing another motorcycle this way.

Luckily, the direction we were going was downhill for the most part. My wife kept an eye on him to see what he wanted us to do. He shouted and pointed toward an upcoming road on our right. We turned and coasted, and occasionally, he came along and pushed. Eventually, we could see a very small village in the distance.

As we got closer, we could see people noticing us. Children ran to us, and our friend shouted things to them and they ran back to the village. It became difficult for him to push us, so we got off and started pushing the scooter. He kept pointing ahead of us saying, “Mecánico, mecánico, gasolina.”

The children swarmed us, smiling and shouting at each other. The children held up their hands, and we stopped just in front of a small house. We could see what appeared to be a birthday party happening for what looked like twin girls.

There were decorations all over the front of the home with Minnie Mouse posters and happy birthday banners with a big number “4” on it. The girls were all dressed up in pink, white, and black, and the family was eating boiled crab. They looked extremely happy.

I messaged our Airbnb host, letting her know what was happening, and she said, “The Dominicans can fix anything!” We watched as people gathered around us and the mecánico figured out how to open the seat of the motorbike and verify that we were indeed out of gas.

About then, a young girl, perhaps 12 years old, walked up and asked us in clear English if she could help. This girl’s English sounded like she could have been from Minnesota or many other cities from the United States. She seemed pretty relaxed as she ate her crab and translated to us what was happening. She said the man was getting some gas for us and also would tell us where we could find the closest gas station on our way back home.

They were able to spare about a 1/2 gallon of gas, and when I asked how much I owed, all they asked for was some money to cover the gas. I turned to the man who had rescued us off the road and tried to give him some money, but he refused. I was so raw of emotions at this point I could feel a catch in my throat as I felt this man’s kindness and the tears rolling down my face.

When I pressed him to please take the money, he looked at me with compassion and smiled his appreciation for me asking, but refused again. I was overcome by emotions, and I reached out and shook his hand and repeated, “Gracias, gracias, gracias.”

I tried desperately to hold myself together long enough for us to turn the motorbike around and head back to the highway. Moments later, I allowed all the emotions out by crying, taking deep breaths, and feeling a huge amount of gratitude for the gift we had just received from the universe.

We drove for another 15 minutes or so before we had to take a detour off the main road to find the town of “Las Lagunas de Nisibon.” We quickly found a Texaco gas station and filled the tank up to the very top!

As we got closer to Punta Cana, we did decide we had time to stop at Playa Macao to have the little lunch we had packed. I was emotionally exhausted but welcomed the respite in our journey. We walked around the bay to the far end of the beach where we sat and observed what appeared to be a photo session of a newly wed couple.

We relaxed in the sun and talked about our journey and how we were rescued and all the struggle we were feeling. Knowing we had to get back to our Airbnb before dark, we walked back to our scooter and noticed a small group of boys offering to clean the sand off our feet for a few pesos. They were smiling and laughing and having a good time. We decided to support these young entrepreneurs and they quickly went to work.

We saddled back up on the scooter for the last leg of our journey. The sun was getting low, and we knew we wouldn’t want to be driving this small scooter in the dark on a highway, so off we went.

As we got closer and traffic became heavier, I decided to move off to the shoulder of the road, as some vehicles were driving fast around us. We were moving quickly to stay in the flow when I noticed the shoulder was going to stop soon and we needed to get back into the main lane.

The pavement was uneven, and moving into the main lane would be tricky. I knew I couldn’t slow down or stop. I had to move quickly to hop the bump in the road before we ended up in the ditch. I quickly turned the wheel up the bump and the bike shifted wildly; I felt as if we were about to flip.

My wife held on tight and did her best to stay on the bike. I managed to jerk the wheel back onto the shoulder, but the end was near. I attempted the jump again and the bike shook wildly again, and in a matter of a few seconds, we jumped back and forth several times before we finally ended up in the driving lane! “What the hell!” I thought. “Can we finally get a break now?!”

My heart was beating fast as traffic speeds slowed and we managed our way back through the city streets of Punta Cana. We had to stop briefly to get our bearings, but we finally rolled up to the parking lot of our apartment, and the security guard rolled back the gate to let us in.

We were home.

When we walked into the apartment, most of all the other residents were sitting around watching something on television. They were chatting, drinking wine, and eating. They all stopped talking as they looked at us. I’m sure they could see that we were not doing well as we were still in shock from our trip. One of the girls from England asked, “What did you guys do today?” I looked at my wife and began telling of our harrowing journey.

They all listened in silence, and then, one by one, they all began smiling at us. Confused, I asked, “What are you smiling at?” They said, “You had such an adventure! You had many challenges, but you did it and made it home!” I was stunned. I was completely speechless. Yes, we had many challenges, we did do it, and we did survive and make it home safe. I didn’t know what to say about that. I was confused about how to feel but managed to force a smile anyway and said I needed to take a shower.

After we showered, my wife and I decided to have a big meal and to just relax the rest of the evening. As we walked and held hands, we didn’t speak much. I could feel that we were both processing what we had just experienced.

I knew then that this was more than just a random experience in a foreign country, but I was also very traumatized. The rest of our days in the Dominican were spent close to home and mostly on the beach. We didn’t speak much of our journey, but I could feel the emotional wounds nevertheless.

It’s been several years ago now, and we have spoken about what happened on that journey several times. It’s taken a lot of courage to fully admit that what I said to her was out of line and unnecessary. I understood that I was in a bad place emotionally, and I also had the perspective that my wife was relying on me to be a man and take care of us both. But this wasn’t true. She was trying her best, just as I was, but my perspective clouded the truth of the experience she was having.

I tried to rationalize my failures by simply blaming myself as not being enough. Not enough of a man. Not enough self-confidence. Not smart enough, and the list goes on. I had relinquished my power to the experience I had and decided I was a victim of my own making and was fully convinced that this would never change. Not until recently do I feel that I (at least partially) understand why the universe set it all in motion.

Recently, my wife and I, once again, recounted the experiences we had in the Dominican. It wasn’t until now that she told her own story of how she felt in those moments from the rental shop to the mountain top and running out of gas. She had never told me her perspective before, or perhaps I was playing the victim role so completely I didn’t hear what she had been saying.

She recounted her own fear at the rental shop or how to help me. She told me of how much anguish she felt on the scooter, and that she felt she was hurting me by not being able to give me more room on the seat. She talked about not only her own frustrations on the mountain top but that she felt as if she couldn’t do anything right to please me.

As she opened up more about her experience, I could see her perspective unfold in front of me. I could feel her fear in those moments and how she desperately just wanted it all to be better and couldn’t help how I was feeling. It was then that I could clearly see how we both felt completely vulnerable and unsafe. I could see how there have been many times in our relationship where there has been conflict that one of the base underlying issues was not feeling safe.

I can see how much of my pushing back and self-deprecation was just me trying to protect myself because I felt unsafe. I can see that from the time I was a very young boy, I have held my emotions in and learned to people-please because I was looking for safety—to be safe in my family, to be safe at my job, to be safe when I travel, and so on.

In looking at the entire experience in the Dominican, I now feel that the universe has given me a blessing from which I can grow as an individual. I can see the areas that I need to work on, like trusting my instincts no matter what, to really knowing that the universe has my back, and seeing that even though things can be hard and even dangerous, I have always either found a way to resolve it, or a solution just lands in my lap.

I was shown again that each of these life-altering events have always been followed up by a perfect solution, not only for me, but for all involved. I was also shown that human kindness and compassion is universal, that even though I can be in the middle of a foreign country, there are people willing and ready to help. These things have been shown to me many times in my life, but I didn’t want to believe that I was worthy of the kindness.

I think I’ve always thought of feeling safe as an illusion because I’ve rarely ever felt safe in my life. I’ve been seeking safety from others, and that need has been an infinitely large hole that could never been filled. I feel that safety really comes from within. It comes from seeing the blessings I’ve been given. It comes from the repeated evidence that each and every time I’ve been challenged in my life, there has always been a solution.

Safety comes from building confidence in seeing and understanding that even though it’s been hard, I did it, I am still here, and I have grown because of the challenges. And that, I believe, is truly why I am living this life. I am living it to experience, grow, and to know that I am enough.


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