Over New Year we went to visit some family whilst down in England, and after a long day driving from A to B, we happened to break down on our route back to A. Not just once, but twice! What ensued was a very long night of lay-bys and tow trucks, BP service stations and very tired children. This was then followed a few days later by a very long car journey home in a courtesy car. Thankfully there were a couple of funny moments along the way and I love it when even in a bit of a crisis God provides you with things to have a little chuckle over.
The first of these chuckle moments was the second time that we broke down, which happened to be just ten minutes after we set off from our previous breakdown recovery. We were pulled in on the hard shoulder in torrential rain whilst one of our children wailed over the need for the toilet! My ability to tolerate this lasted about twenty minutes upon which time I pretty much shoved my husband out in the oncoming traffic for him to fend for himself in the wet and dark with a small child! Slightly harsh I know, but after hours with no food and only the drumming of rain on the roof and wailings of children for distraction, I wasn’t in the best mood! Watching my husband struggle with a small child in the darkness and wet, if I am honest, made me more than chuckle!
Once we were all back inside the car, some wetter than others of course (apparently the need for the toilet had dissipated as soon as the wet rain hit a little bare bottom) I suddenly caught sight of something moving in the bushes ahead and my second giggle came strutting into view. As we watched, the movement gathered pace and expanded into our central vision and what should it be but a pheasant and his four lady friends. They just very slowly sauntered along, pecking away at goodness knows what in that weather. They traversed the side of the car on their travels and then returned and just hung out ahead of us on their date night. Now in bonnie Scotland where we live it is not uncommon to see pheasants and grouse strutting their stuff each day but on the M40 surrounded by what felt like every single motorist in England, along with the rising tides of a Noah like rain storm, it was a very unusual and unexpected sight. Their Friday night plans brought a big smile to my face as I watched them hang out together over an enjoyable meal and good company! It certainly helped us pass the time as we sat back and enjoyed watching them at their leisurely pace.
So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when two days later we were stopped at an M6 service station (making our 9 hour journey home to Scotland) when we chanced upon a flock of geese strolling around the Moto service station we were at. Again, we have a lot of wildlife hanging out in the fields around our house and at certain times of the year our dogs go crazy as they charge around the fields chasing the geese that are sat waiting to migrate to warmer lands. Yet whilst a field of geese is a very familiar sight for us, seeing them strolling around a motorway car park, well out of season, was a little unexpected. “Fancy seeing you here!” I said as we strolled past them.
I couldn’t help but dwell upon my recent feathered-friend encounters and if I could find some meaning to them. What I settled upon was the idea that on both occasions these birds seemed very much out of place, away from both their natural and comfortable environment, seeking safety, food and shelter. Somewhere along the way they had lost their direction and found themselves in a foreign land where on one hand one group just got theirs heads down and decided to get on with their lot (the pheasants) and the other group strutted about without formation or confidence, looking lost and a little helpless (the geese).
As people living in a developed country with birth certificates and passports, money and wifi access, travelling is a relatively easy and liberating experience. We can go almost anywhere with the help of plane tickets, visas and immunisations. There are only a handful of countries that are probably off limits to us. Travelling can be so many different things to so many different people. Maybe its a break in the sun after a busy year. Maybe its an adventure exploring new and unchartered territory or maybe its aid work, offering your time and assistance to those in need. It can include sunshine or the Northern Lights, sand or sea, mountains or great plains. It is a fantastic privilege and joy. Now I imagine for the majority of us our travelling is planned and organised. We go on Trip Advisor or buy a Lonely Planet Guide and start making plans and then we look forward to our day of departure, packing and repacking, saving and preparing, until it finally arrives. We wake up five times before our alarm actually goes off because the fear of missing our plane is too great and then we stop and load up on take away coffees and pan au chocolate for the journey to the airport. Next comes Duty Free and all that saving finally pays off! That perfume you have yearned for is now yours and those new Kurt Keiger’s shoes you were wanting are in the bag. Job done and you haven’t even left the country yet!
On the other end of the spectrum there is a completely different kind of travel being taken with a lot less preparation and joy. These are the journeys of people living in countries filled with war and destruction, poverty and death. They are living each day surrounded by the sirens of chaos and the torment of grenades, explosions of gun fire and gut wrenching fear. They have seen their nearest and dearest killed and tortured, raped and molested. They will have witnessed atrocities that we will only ever get a glimpse of on a box office sell out. They make the decision to travel, to go where they can find safety. They don’t go on Trip Advisor and they certainly don’t own a Lonely Planet. They barely have time to pack a suitcase or say goodbye to their friends. There is no send off at the gate and there are no embraces of warmth at the other end. They don’t overload on caffeine and croissants, or duty free and perfume. What is more many of them wont have birth certificates and therefore they won’t have passports. Their travel options, far from STA Travel and Thompsons, are relegated to a dinghy pushed out onto the ocean on a wing and a prayer. Most likely they won’t make it. Either they will drown or they will be picked up and sent back home. The few that make it to the other side will find themselves in holding detention centres or living on the streets. Now there are some that will end up in the system and who will be provided with accommodation and second hand clothes. They will get to enrol their children in schools and this may seem like a luxury to some but how will it feel to be those children? Thrust into a system that makes no sense to them and where no one speaks their language. How will it feel to be their parents? To stand at the school gates, apart and alien, not knowing anyone, not knowing the customs we have or understanding our day to day living. I think these people must feel like those geese, standing aloft and confused, out of formation.
What is our response going to be to them? Will we look shocked and surprised and say “fancy seeing you here?” under our breaths? Or will we make the first move and step out in friendship and love. Will we offer them our battered copies of the Lonely Planet and invite them in for tea? Or will we walk on by and look away?
I pray that God gives these people something to chuckle about in their low moments, on their long and weary journeys, but most of all I pray that we will face them square on and offer them a hand of friendship.