Knowing you are where you are supposed to be

I trekked in the Everest Region with Nick 20 years ago. I bumped into Nick in Kinja, he looked sort of familiar, but what are the chances? When I asked him have you ever been here before he answered "yes 20 years ago" I asked "is your name Nick?" He said "yes", I asked "did you trek with a guy named Ken?" He answered "yes". I couldn't believe it. I jumped up with a big smile, hand out stretched to shake his hand. "I am Steve McGrath, we trekked together 20 years ago" Took him awhile to remember, but so much fun to remember and share stories with the person you made them with.

He sent me a before photo from 20 years ago. Fantastic. So nice to know you are where you are supposed to be.

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Toughest man alive

I was on my way to Lhasa Tibet from Kathmandu Nepal for the Tibetan New Year called Losar. It promised a display of traditional Tibetan costumes. Celebration Tibetan style. I also really looked forward to the journey through Tibet and the Himalayas.

It is a simple journey. You buy your ticket, then you get matched up with some other people that want to do the same thing you do. Get on a bus which takes you to a Land Cruiser which takes you to Lhasa. Nothing is that simple in this part of the world. After we started the frozen Land Cruisers and found that there were no avalanches blocking the road we were off. The trip was made easier by the fact that traveling in our group was a woman named Elisabeth who spoke fluent Tibetan.

We were in one of the little towns first night in Tibet. It was cold, at least -35ºC, I am Canadian, I am used to working in the Far North of Canada so I know cold, this was definitely below -35º C. The guest house we stayed in was not heated. We piled everyone in one room to share body heat. There really isn’t a bed for a person, more like a cushioned surface to lay your body down and lots of blankets everywhere and boiled hot water for tea. There is room for a lot of people. It is comfy in a chilly sort of way. The new altitude in Tibet had wiped me out and I was quickly to sleep.

06:00 and we are getting ready to hit the road again. It is still very cold. Quickly I change into every warm piece of clothes I own and make for the restaurant across the street. The others have the same idea. I walk out of the guest house, crisp and cold air hits me. I look to the side and what I am seeing in front of me hits harder than any cold air. I am stunned. There is a Tibetan man curled up on a stone step in a doorway. He is wearing no more than a normal sweater, some cotton pants and a toque. No mattress padding or even a box. He is curled up with a dog, not a big bushy warm dog just an ordinary hairless mut from the streets of Tibet. I am shocked, the moisture inside my nose is already starting to freeze. He is sleeping, or dead I am thinking. Tashi Dele, I say to him. He opens his eyes, stiffly starts to sit up, smiling, nothing moving very quickly. Are you OK? I ask. He doesn’t understand english. Elisabeth the english woman steps out of the guest house and sees what I see. She asks him something in Tibetan. He smiles, looks around sort of confused then back at her with an answer. Her face displays surprised and responds. He smiles and nods.

I am watching unsure of what is being said. She turns to me and says we should get him a tea. I go to the restaurant and get him a tea and bring it back. Elisabeth and the man are chatting away. She is noticably freezing the man is unconcerned about the weather. She has been asking him to come for breakfast with us. He thanks us but declines the offer.

I hand him the tea and he thanks me in Tibetan. I ask Elisabeth “what did you say?” She tells me she asked “Are you OK?” He said “yes”. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked? “Yes”, his smiling face replies, “but I will be warm again later.”

D-Day Legacy

Part 1
D-day LegacyI was working as a first mate and chef on a beautiful sailboat in Corsica. It is hard work and long hours. It was after midnight and I was still cleaning the galley when Hans one of the guests poked his head in and gave a slightly drunken hello.”Grab a bottle of wine off the rack. Take a break and come socialize on the deck”.

The conversation starts to slow down as the wine settles in. The night sky is amazing and we are sitting under a blanket of stars. “So you are Canadian?” I knew he knew this, so I am wondering what this means. I continue to stare at the sky. A moment later without any response from me he continues. ” I never met a Canadian before.” This is an older business guy who does transactions all over the world. How can he have never have met a Canadian? I ask him. He says “Well yes I have done deals with Canadians, had them in the room but never sat and talked with one.”

Strange I think to myself. I don’t really have a response. I sit quietly enjoying the wine waiting for the inevitable. Why is he telling me this? The pause in the conversation enables me to take in the smell of the ocean on a warm mediteranean night. This sure beats cleaning the galley.

“My dad was killed in the war by a Canadian.” he throws out. This attention grabber has me scanning his face for his demeanor on the topic. “Whoa”, I am dumbfounded. “you have never spoke with a Canadian because of this?”. “Ya” he says. A little uncomfortable. After a very long pause, my mind racing as to what must be going through his mind. Fifty five year old memories. I don’t think either of us was ready for that.

“Tell me about your father” is my response.

“I don’t remember him well. I was young, but I have a memory of his face. He was an experienced soldier, he had been in the war for several years. About 2 days after we found out he had been killed in Normandy a letter arrived addressed to me. It had been mailed before the battle. He said everyone knew the allies would be invading. They didn’t know where exactly. He told me everything will be fine. “We just hope that we don’t get the Canadians landing on our beach. They are fierce soldiers. They attack with little support and have to fight for their lives because they have nowhere to retreat to. That comment hadn’t meant much until a couple years later I found out that he had been stationed near the town of Courseulles where the Canadians landed. Known as Juno beach to the Allies.”

I think to myself. This short exerpt in a long letter has stuck with Hans 55 years, dramatically changing his life. There is no expression to describe my astonishment. I didn’t know what to say. It is quite intimidating to instantly become a one on one ambassador of Canada under the circumstance. “Wow” I say in a calm contemplative fashion.

“I never really felt comfortable with the thought of Canada after that. Times have changed, enemies have become allies. Old hatred thankfully lost. Yet I have always felt uneasy. And now I meet a Canadian while on holidays.” he says.
“Have you been to Normandy?” he continues.
“No” I say.
“You should go to Normandy, I go once a year. Last year I visited a Canadian cemetry from that battle. It was near where my father died”
“What was it like?” I ask.
He looks at me, he holds up his wine glass in salute like he has finalized a decision. ” I am not going to tell you. You must see Normandy for yourself. Many lives have been changed from what happened that summer. You should visit battlefields and cemetries of all the nations. It is history, yours and mine. You should go.”
“You are right Hans, I will go to Normandy” I answer. “There is something to learn there.”
“Good” he says “lets have some more wine, I want to know more about Canada. Do you play hockey?…”