I’ll start with Antarctica. It was the first “off the beaten path” trip we endeavored to do as a family of five. We fought for 10 years to give Jackson the basic functions that define us as humans (walk on two feet, appose forefinger and thumb to write, converge eyes at near point to read, coordinate lips, nose, throat, and breath to speak, etc.), and then to get a degree of behavioral and emotional control over his functional abilities. He wasn’t coordinated enough that he could be on a ship, so we charted a flight from Punta Arenas in Chile and arranged to meet up with an Antarctic explorer to take us around from research station to research station in a Snow Cat (and to stop and see a few penguins along the way!).
I’ll never forget seeing our guide smile at me as I climbed out of the six-seat plane we had flown over the Drake Passage on, and then to see the smile turn to a dropped jaw as the rest of the family progressively emerged from the plane behind me. “You didn’t tell me they were kids!” were his first words (he had the tact not to add “and that one has special needs”, but it was clear that added insult to injury). I hadn’t done so on purpose – in our e-mail correspondence it simply never came up (he asked for how many in our party, so I simply responded with “Five”).
After that rocky start, the trip was absolute magic, and Jackson completely rose to the challenge of getting in and out of the Snow Cat, keeping his gloves, hat, and mask on enough to avoid frostbite, and ably explored penguin colonies and glaciers ably keeping up with his brothers. He even packed and threw a snowball or two! To have everyone together doing something so “us” was pure magic – I get tears of joy in my eyes even thinking about it now!
On a more somber note, the second would be Rwanda, which touched me deeply. I was being guided around a church by a Rwandan who was probably 10 years younger than me at the time (I was in my mid-30s). He described the atrocities that had happened there with vivid detail, and with an emotion that was more gut wrenching than any other experience I’d had in my travels. As we got near the altar, he pointed to a little enclave nearby – kind of like a cupboard but without a door, and he said, “This is where I was hiding.”
It was only then I understood I was getting an eye-witness account, and further realized that everything he was describing happened under the watch of my generation (unlike, say, what happened under Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet, etc.). I couldn’t help but hug him, and while I haven’t done anything as dramatic as changing my vocation as a result, there’s no question that moment changed me – it made me a better, more compassionate, and more responsible adult.