Today I explore the first stop in a series I am calling “Travel as Pilgrimage.” Click here for an intro to the series. My hope is that these experiences and stories will do two things: 1. Expand our worldviews to the extent that we realize God’s Kingdom is alive and advancing in people/regions of the world that we may not have otherwise considered, 2. Ignite our imagination and desire for travel as an act of personal and spiritual pilgrimage.
The first installment of this series takes us to the beautiful shores of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. This was the first time Janny and I had ever done any extended time of travel in our marriage. We had five weeks, two backpacks and zero reservations, so adventure was sure to ensue. Our goal was to relax, learn some Spanish and leave lots of time for me to write this book.
After traveling around for a week or so, we stumbled onto a little cottage on the beach in Mal Pais where we would stay for the rest of our time. Surrounded by the crashing waves, 80 degree water, endless iguana’s, howler monkey’s and rain forest, it was a small slice of heaven on earth. Little did we know that our greatest companion wouldn’t be the surrounding creatures and creation, but our Canadian neighbor named Mike (not real name).
We would see him leave his cottage every mid-morning to journey up and down the beach for most of the day. He was about 50 years old, traveling alone and was very reserved. We would say hello and smile, but didn’t interact to any extent until one evening when he walked to our place and asked for some salt. In that moment, we began a friendship that would shape the rest of our time in Costa Rica.
Over coffee in the morning and a beer at night, we would play cribbage while overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At first we would simply share stories from our day, but as the days passed we moved into conversations on politics, religion and family. One evening I asked why he was down in Costa Rica by himself for 3+ months. He first responded by saying that he needed to escape the dark, cold Canadian winter, but I could tell there was more to the story…and there was.
Mike was a really friendly guy, but he always had somber disposition about him. After a few more games of late night cribbage, he looked at me as said, “My wife died three years ago.” I said I was sorry and we sat in silence looking out to sea.
The only voice was that of the wind, ocean waves and occasional monkey howl.
He continued, “After she died, all of my kids moved away to go to college and I stayed at home to continue my nearly 30 years working at the local newspaper printing press. With the newspaper industry falling apart, I was forced to retire and I was left alone in a big house with way too much time on my hands. I needed to get away, so here I am.”
I quickly realized that Mike was grieving and he needed a companion. Not someone to tell him all the answers, but someone to simply be present. He was not only grieving the loss of his wife, he was grieving the departure of his kids…he felt extremely alone.
In the weeks that followed that conversation, our friendship deepened and Janny and I spent parts of every day with Mike. We rode bikes through the jungle, we taught him to surf and we played A LOT of cribbage.
I’m not real sure how much Mike knew about Jesus or the reality of the God’s Kingdom, but I’m sure he experienced both as we laughed, cried and played as new found companions…I know I did.
Any stories/experiences of companionship coming out of an unexpected context? Could those needing companionship be the ones closest to us (neighbors, acquaintances, barista’s in your local coffee shop)?