THEY SAID IT, I LEARNED FROM IT
Make Memories Along the Way
John Michael Graff was his name. He taught me all I ever needed to understand about the proper way to live and how to establish priorities. No. He was not a guru or life consultant, teacher, mentor, author, or anyone that was educationally qualified to teach me the lesson. What he taught me he did within an hour or so in a hotel pub in Manchester, England in the early nineties. His authority was the life experience he shared with me and a friend fortunate to have been traveling with me.
John Michael Graff was a bit of an enigma. I had not met him yet and did not know his name, but I was able to guess one thing about him. He was wearing boots, a duster, and a wide-brimmed hat. If I did not know better, I would have thought he might be Crocodile Dundee. Based upon what little I could see he was from Australia or New Zealand. When I heard him speak to the tour guide his accent suggested Australian. He was noticeably quiet and kept to himself, although he joined all of us to look at the sights and tour the cathedrals.
An old friend who lived in Hawaii and worked for the American Automobile Association, which was a travel agency specializing in arranging trips and providing detailed maps in the days preceding digital navigation devices and on-line travel and accommodation websites, called me out of the blue one day to say that he had two tickets to a “Taste of Britain” bus tour that his wife had decided that she was not going to join him in experiencing. He wanted to know if I would like to go. I was single at the time, so I did not need to ask for permission or forgiveness. I said “Yes,” and the trip was on. I was to fly to London Heathrow, and we were meeting up there to begin the tour.
The first morning we hopped on a bus along with a group of strangers from all over the world and began the tour. First was a day trip out to Bath and Stonehenge where we enjoyed those ancient sites and began to get acquainted with our fellow travelers. These were folks from all over the world. Most were paired up in twos, with some in groups of 3,4, or more. John Michael seemed to be traveling alone. There was not time for conversation on that first day as we were busy sightseeing and being tourists. I am a bit of a photo bug, so I was always looking through my camera lens and documenting the trip and all that I saw and sometimes felt along the way.
The next morning, we were on the bus with our luggage and on our way. We were scheduled for stops at Strafford-Upon-Avon, Nottingham, York, Middleborough, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, and Edinburgh, Scotland where we spent two nights. Then on to Glasgow in Scotland and back to Liverpool and Manchester where we spent the last night of the tour. It had been an excellent trip except for an embarrassing incident at the hotel in Edinburgh. We had decided to head to the spa where we read that there was exercise equipment, a steam bath, ice baths (which I had never experienced), and a pool of course. We had been traveling and walking for days so the idea of lifting weights and relaxing in the spa sounded perfect. So, we two Appalachian-Americans put on our swim trunks and tee-shirts, threw a towel around our shoulders, and headed to the spa. We followed the signs along the hallway and eventually found ourselves walking through the hotel pub, to quite the amusement of the patrons, to get to the spa. In Scotland, it is customary to carry your swimwear to the spa while you are fully dressed and change there. Who knew? The walk back through the pub in wet swimwear was even more humiliating and the folks in the pub were at party pitch and serenaded us as we passed through.
After dinner in Manchester, we headed to the pub which looked a little more like a late seventies disco than what either of us were expecting. But we ordered a pint or two or three and were thoroughly enjoying the memories of the trip. Somewhere during the conversation, we noticed John Michael sitting by himself at the pub drinking a pint. We decided to join him if he would have us as it just did not seem right that he would spend the whole tour on his own. We asked and he graciously invited us to sit with him. We ordered another round of pints, including one for John Michael, and began to chat about the trip. After a while, and one too many pints, I asked him why he was traveling alone. His face, which was bright and engaged, quickly dimmed and his mood became somber. I instantly regretted asking the question, but John Michael took a deep breath and began to talk.
“I’m from Australia where my wife and I own a rather large horse and cattle ranch. We were not lucky enough to inherit it from our families, so we have put every penny we earned and our blood, sweat, and tears into making it what it is today. I do not mind telling you that as a result, we have become very wealthy. We sacrificed everything during our younger years to make the ranch everything it has become. We worked extremely hard and did not do things we would have liked to do and put off other things we knew we wanted to do. We decided early on that we were going to be too busy to have children, so we passed on that as well. About 10 years ago we began talking about taking a trip around the world. We spent our time during the evening looking at tour guides and television shows and magazines at places we thought we would love to visit and began creating an itinerary of exactly what that trip would include. We planned and planned and reached a point where we were ready to book it. As you know, to travel we had to get our passports and with everywhere we were going we had to get a round of vaccinations. We decided to go ahead and have physical exams to just make sure we were completely ready. I passed with flying colors. My wife, Anne, was told that something had come up during her exam. Way too quickly we found that she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They gave her only a few months to live. Our trip around the world was no more and all I could think about was losing her. She, on the other hand, wanted to focus on the trip that she would not be making but she insisted that I promise her I would. How could I go through with a trip around the world without her? She said that she and I had the kind of love that causes each of us to give a part of our souls to the other and that when one dies a part of them lives on in the other. She convinced me to carry her with me and show her the world on this trip.”
I was fighting back tears as I heard these words. But John Michael Graff looked directly at me and smiled. “She would have liked you. You have a tender heart even though you try not to show it.” Suddenly my friend laughed at that as he also knew that I liked to act tough, and I was just called out. Soon we were all laughing as it was necessary to get past the tragic story that was told.
I have held that story in my mind and my heart throughout my life. So often we give up today for tomorrow. The story has taught me that life is to live. It is not to plan.
While I have accomplished much in my career, I would like to think I have accomplished more in my life. I have made sure that I have made the time to live and make memories as I go. John Michael Graff Said, “I made plans, but I never really lived.” Remember his words as you live your life. Make memories along the way. Reach for your dreams while you can. Do not wait for a tomorrow that may never come.
Written by Al Ferguson
They said it, I learned from it is a compilation of lessons learned from the things I’ve heard people say over the course of my lifetime. It’s amazing what you can learn when you listen. Watch for They Said it, I learned from it every Friday in The Weekly Hodl. It’s perfect reading while you enjoy your second breakfast. Sign up today.