Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Languages, Laughter and Love

Traveling highlights the differences between people. Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, or at least not the right side. And they have several markedly different adaptations of the English language. One that purports to be "proper" (but drops the "r" in that word in the process). And another, spoken by the "ordinary" folk, that arbitrarily shortens that word and others (like "strawberry"). They seem to have mastered the art of developing more idioms than most other cultures (who else has "sticky wickets" and “water closets”).

The Dutch are wired to be stubborn, at least when it comes to protecting their little land from, and expanding it into, the sea. Someday the English Channel may be filled in by a Dutch dike to support the 83rd phase of Rotterdam's Europort. And they speak a guttural language that sounds like they are ready to spit at any time and cannot be spoken with a dry mouth. I will leave French out of the discussion for now. More about them in days to come.

But as I look back on the last 10 days of our European adventure I realize that some things transcend our cultural and language differences. Take our last night in Holland for instance. Before this trip, the last time Wim, Ans, Theo, my wife and I had enjoyed a meal (or anything else) together was almost 10 years ago in our home. Despite this long time apart, and the differences of culture and language, one apparent feature characterized our times together; laughter. Whether it was Theo cooking a culinary feast in his crimson red chef's jacket and hat or Wim picking up lines from our conversation and matching them to his encyclopedic knowledge of rock-n-roll hits (naming the group, year and sometimes writer - did you know the Byrd's 1965 hit "Turn, Turn, Turn" was written by Pete Seeger in 1959?). We laughed until our facial muscles and extended stomachs hurt. It was as if we were a family, sharing a meal, always delicious, and laughing endlessly. It needs no translator and overcomes some of the most serious difficulties.

And then there is love. There is no stronger bond. Like Paul the Apostle wrote to distant friends long ago, some of whom were hurting, "These things shall endure, faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love." It is the tie that binds us together over years and miles, as has been so apparent in our European adventure. Being picked up and dropped off, often at the most inconvenient times and places for them, changing their schedules to fit ours so that we could spend time together, being fed continually from waking until we retired, giving up their bed and bath, and always accommodating us (colds and all) at some personal cost but with no complaint. We have been loved by those we came to see, and we are the richer for it.

When we decided to make the trip to the UK and Europe it was not to see the sights or even enjoy the cultural experiences, although we accomplished some of that also. No, without doubt or hesitation we realized the sites and experiences stood a distant second to family and friends. And laughter and love built bridges that will stand the test of time and even tragedy.

As with traveling, Parkinson's disease can leave us feeling estranged, even isolated. Others do not seem to understand us and the result is alienation. This trip to Europe has convinced me that PD and travel have two secret, common allies: laughter and love. They transport us beyond the bounds of our disease and touch our very souls. They are mystical healers for what would otherwise be a cold and sad drifting into despair.

Inspired by this trip, I, for one, intend to invest more time laughing and loving, knowing it does pay dividends across time, language and culture.

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