I flicked on HBO a few nights ago for what will likely be one of the last times, and caught part of an episode of The Pacific. It was the episode about John Basilone, the hero of Guadalcanal who almost single-handedly held off 3,000 Japanese troops. But this wasn’t Guadalcanal, it was Iwo Jima, and, where other men cowered under the barrage of Japanese artillery, Basilone staggered through the fatal hail and rallied the troops*.
I was captivated not by the sobering amounts of gore, but by John Basilone’s pristine, almost sacred, display of heroism. In the midst of this scene, an unintelligible grunt of recognition escaped my lips. I recalled a poem I wrote many years ago lamenting the fact that our modern world leaves very little room for the heroics I subconsciously sought time and again in books, films, and other media. I’ll spare you the painful adolescence of the full text, but the snippet in the pull quote spoke to me.
can you imagine that feeling?
that forever has no power over you
that you are forever
I recognize a longing to “make my mark” in these lines. Perhaps there’s an uncertainty or fear about the legacy I’ll leave behind. What will I do, like heroes of old, to be remembered? And what does heroism really mean? One well-known dictionary defines it as “having or involving recourse to boldness, daring, or extreme measures.” Another definition focuses on courage, bravery, and self-sacrifice. A third equated a hero with being a positive role model. All of these definitions pointed to what I think I had already realized: “heroism” is a kind of umbrella term that collects many of mankind’s most admirable qualities. They are characteristics that we are meant to aspire to embody. Whether it’s Conan the Barbarian or John Basilone, there’s a thrill in seeing these heroic qualities on display, in witnessing such a powerful expression of our humanness.
In the myths and ancient tales of many cultures, heroes were those who went forth to find answers to the unexplainable. Their quests were fraught with danger, and boldness, daring, and extreme measures were necessary to succeed. I look at my situation or those of countless others walking away from office jobs in uncertain financial times to find something. Leaving a safe harbor and traveling the world with a head fully of fuzzy reasons: these are extreme measures. Bold actions. Daring plans. Is this not heroic?
OK, even if travel is heroic, so what? Does that have any effect on the traveler? It could. The perception of your trip in these terms can be empowering and increase your enjoyment and engagement in the present. Catalog what you’ve accomplished – actually write it down – and give yourself credit.
In a way, this post is the sister to the one I wrote about the importance of the quest. I am finding power in writing these mantra-esque posts; they help me realize the truth of the topic. And the truth is travel can be heroic. Take a minute and look back on your travels, on everything you’ve accomplished. Maybe you’ve been on the road for three years like travel blogger Gary Arndt. Maybe you cut off the dead weight of a job you disliked and created your ideal life like Christine Gilbert. Or maybe your job cut you off and freed you to travel and find a new path like Jeannie Mark. The point is that we don’t need to be John Basilone to be heroes. People everywhere are being courageous, brave, and self-sacrificing every day. It just takes a little attention. When I paid attention, I realized I wasn’t lamenting a lack of heroics in the modern world, I was lamenting a lack of heroics in my own life. Traveling Savage is changing that.
What do you think? Is travel heroic to you?
*Let me state unequivocally that while I posit war and travel share a heroic lineage, they are definitely not equals. All due respect to those involved in WWII and veterans of all wars.
Original photo by EssjayNZ via Flickr under Creative Commons