So, I’ve finally begun my long awaited journey! It’s been exactly 20 days since I left my home, family and friends in South Florida with a one way ticket to London, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
I’ve touched the Druidic stones of Avebury, marveled at the Roman architecture of Bath, kissed the Blarney Stone in Cork, hiked the Cliffs of Moher and Giant’s Causeway, walked the city streets of Belfast, Edinburgh and Stirling, took a trip back in time at the Beatles museum in Liverpool, and saw pretty much every sight you could possibly hope to see in the heart of London. My soul is absolutely teeming with gratitude for everything I’ve experienced so far, and that is really just the tip of the iceberg in my grand European tour.
As I patiently wait for the gate of my budget flight (London – Spain) to be announced, thoughts of all these wonderful places I’ve seen are ringing their joyous songs in my head. I am often brought back however, to the very first person and AirBnb host I encountered in my travels. For sake of this post, I will refer to him as, Rick.
Good old Rick, a very nice man in his 70s, graciously opened his home to a friend (Ian) and I in the very small and quiet town of Dilton Marsh. How small is this town you might be wondering? To put it into perspective, when we arrived by taxi, the streets had no names that we could see, and the houses had no numbers. As we stood outside in the cold, hoping for the slightest bit of service on our cell phones to make a call, there was not another living soul in sight. No shops, no gas stations, no businesses of any kind that we could make out. Thankfully we were able to reach Rick, and as we waited for him on the side of the road, a very nice neighbor came out to ask if we needed help. If our phones hadn’t worked we definitely would have, but I was still thankful for her kind and welcoming presence since I was starting to feel like Ian and I were walking into the plot of a Stephen King novel.
A few moments later, we saw the silhouette of a man hobbling down the sidewalk. As he came into the light we knew it was our host Rick. He apologized for his limp and explained that he had terrible sciatica. Ian and I were immediately swarmed with guilt that he had to grunt his way down the road to find the two lost Americans. It didn’t seem to bother him though, I could tell almost immediately that he had a charming persistence about him.
As we walked just a few houses up, he pointed out a large and beautiful house to our left, explaining that it was his family’s home in which he grew up. He also pointed out that the woman who came out to check on us was related to him in one way or another, his niece possibly. The more he talked about the town, the more we understood how far his roots went within it.
We were shown to our rooms which were exactly as expected. The house smelled of freshly cooked meats and vegetables, and it occurred to me that Ian and I hadn’t eaten much of anything that day. It was pretty late though, and with no grocery stores around I expected that I would just need to deal with the pangs of hunger until tomorrow. Rick wouldn’t have that, he had prepared a wonderful stew just for our arrival, and I got the sense that even if we weren’t hungry, we were to eat.
As he prepared our plates, he fixed us both a cup of tea and we started to chat about our careers and what we were planning to see in England. Rick shared some great stories of his days doing voiceover work, making many popular British jingles, and working with the BBC. He had the honor of interviewing a handful of amazing people, most of which I wouldn’t have know if Ian hadn’t been there to bridge the age gap between us. Either way his stories were fascinating and Ian and I could tell this man was truly something else.
Briefly in passing, he would mention his partner. In these mentions, it always came across as if he was speaking in the past tense, so we assumed his partner had passed away and didn’t press with questions, unsure if it was a touchy subject. Whatever information Rick wanted to give up, we would graciously take in.
Since it was only about 9pm, Rick asked if we would like to talk a walk down to the local pub. I was shocked there even was a pub! Excited at the thought of doing anything in this little town, I was completely up for it. We got ready, and Rick seemed to have endless stories to keep us entertained.
At some point between deciding to go to the bar and actually leaving, he must have gotten comfortable enough around us to explain that his partner of ten years had passed away from cancer, and that he hasn’t been with anyone since and misses Tim (name changed) very much. Things all started to make sense once he told us this. He was so welcoming, so gracious, and yes I’ll admit, a little flamboyant. What made sense though was hosting his home on AirBNB. We figured he was looking for companionship more than anything else since it didn’t seem like he was in any need of money. He genuinely enjoys the company, and I think he especially took a liking to us just as much as we did to him.
Anyway, off to the pub we were! I might have been a little too excited since I had about six pints and way more laughs than expected. His two friends, also partners, came to meet us. They were younger, mid-thirties maybe, and you could tell they cared for Rick whenever necessary. He referred to them as his near and dearest friends, and they were both really wonderful people and drinking buddies for the evening. Rick must have also been excited because I’ve never seen someone drink that many gin and tonics in my entire life! You could tell he was in pain though, physically and maybe a bit mentally.
After hours of wonderful conversation, it was time to start heading back. Ian and I planned to pay the bill since he had been such a joy to be around, but before we knew it he had already paid for us. The cost of that bill was more than we paid for the BNB, we were shocked! We insisted he let us pay him back, but he insisted right back that we would not. Now Rick had trouble walking to the pub due to his sciatica, but add about eight drinks to that and he could barely take one step in the right direction back home. We were so thankful that he paid our bill, we practically carried him most of the way.
That is, until he sprung across the road towards the church, not even glancing for cars. Now, like I said this is a reeeeally small town. We saw maybe 4 cars drive down this road the entire time we were there, so I’m sure even in his drunken stupor he wasn’t too worried about getting hit. We thought he was just obliterated when he told us to follow him towards the church. Hesitantly, we did indeed follow him.
Halfway up to the church, I see tombstones sticking out of the foggy church courtyard and I quickly realize where he is taking us; Tim’s grave. My heart swells and I can feel how important it is that we do this with him. I wonder for a moment how many of his guests have been taken here. Any? All? Either way, I was honored to touch the tombstone of his lost lover, his soulmate with whom he hopes to join in the near future. He admitted to us that he wishes he could die and be with him, that every day without him is left in longing.
As sad as it was, I understood his pain. I could see it in his humor and his strength. His stubborn determination to walk to the pub when he could barely walk at all. He had to be strong to not plummet into despair. He watched his lover die slowly, took care of him to the best of his ability as he withered away. Now when he needs it the most, his lover isn’t there to take care of him, but people like Ian and I were. His friends at the pub were, and I honestly think that is what he survives on.
We almost didn’t want to leave Rick the next day. I woke up hoping that he had another guest on the way to keep him company. Much to my surprise Rick was up and about as if nothing had happened, making us a wonderful breakfast to send us off with and telling us more stories of his past. He sent us off with a smile and wished us all the best in our travels. It’s because of this that I keep circling back to him in my mind. Even someone who has lost the thing that meant the most to them was kind, welcoming and warm. Even in their moment of darkness they expected nothing of the world but to be set free when the time came.
As I travel to places I once only dreamed of, I am carrying with me the strength of all the wonderful people I have met and will meet. It is their stories and experiences that are worth traveling for, worth giving up the comfort of a job and home to hear first hand. It is people like Rick who make the long flights, uncomfortable beds, missed trains and sore feet all worth while.
With that being said, my gate has finally been assigned! Time for the next adventure in Spain, adiós.