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a letter to Nancy

October 12, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

Being a 15-year-old and hearing all the talk about terrorist acts really scares me. Like any other 15-year-old I really get excited because of traveling. But with all this terrorism going on I would really like to know where it would be safe to go? I understand there are no guarantees.

--Nancy Espinoza, student, Notre Dame Academy, Los Angeles You are right, Nancy, there are no safe roads, no guarantees. Only the joy of discovering the unknown. Each day is a new adventure, a new experience, and so there are no promises. It comes to all of us that life itself is a risk.

Each moment begins as a mystery with joys, hopes and fears in a pattern that changes constantly. Otherwise there would be no peaks, no valleys. Only boredom.

The second hand sweeps ahead while calendar pages fall like the leaves of an autumn afternoon. Impatiently, life goes on and the tragedy of this adventure is failing to live each precious moment to its fullest. To do otherwise is merely to exist. You'd be surprised how swiftly youth is lost on advancing years, so spend those moments wisely, Nancy, without unnecessary fear. This isn't to say that one should be foolhardy; rather it means there is no road that guarantees a safe arrival. In life, risk is a constant companion.

It is a different world from the one in which I grew up. These were the post-Depression years and vacations and travel were only dreams for us. Instead of camp, I spent my summers swimming at North Hollywood Park, so that by the end of summer I had a sunburned nose and hair that had turned green from too much chlorine in the water. Even so, the world was simpler and safer then. At night the heavens over San Fernando Valley lit up with stars (yes, we could still see the Milky Way) and the moon shone like a planet in our own backyard and the crickets chorused late into the night.

The jet airplane didn't exist then, and as a result Europe, the Orient, the South Seas and South America were dreams discovered only in the pages of a textbook, not travel brochures. I was fascinated with Egypt; I dreamed of traveling down the Nile and visiting the Sphinx and the Pyramids. This of course was the impossible dream. Who could imagine a day when such wonders could be reached in mere hours in airplanes that leave contrails like the streak of chalk on a blackboard?

Surely the world was safer then, but also, Nancy, it wasn't nearly as exciting. In one way or another, one pays for everything in this life, and so we surrendered simple pleasures for adventure and the opportunity to discover distant destinations that previously were mere fantasies.

I'm not so sure that those times of daydreaming weren't best after all, but they are finished and so I am impatient to get on with the business of living, so that when it is over, in the final hours, I won't mourn the unspent moments.

No, there are no safe roads and it would be foolish to think otherwise, and so life without risk is meaningless. Thousands of Americans unnecessarily canceled trips to Europe this last summer out of fear of terrorists, even though the chance of coming face to face with one of these troubled souls must rank somewhere on the scoreboard with beating the odds at Monte Carlo. This is true, even with the violence in Paris in recent weeks.

Like you, Nancy, I continue to search for that perfect place, that peaceful destination where pollution and crime don't exist, nor the threat of nuclear annihilation. So for a few moments, I'll repeat myself and describe those destinations that have been discussed on other Sundays, retreats where the world indeed is gentler, with a promise of more peaceful tomorrows.

The perfect place, of course, remains in the eye of the beholder. Still, one needn't travel far to find gentle surroundings. I'm thinking of the storm-tossed Mendocino coast north of San Francisco, a haunting reminder of faraway New England. Winter winds buffet the land and gales sweep down from Alaska, churning up great waves that deposit driftwood on storm-battered beaches. Gnarled oaks drip with Spanish moss and the air is rich with the fragrance of eucalyptus.

Painters and poets are inspired by the fury of the sea and the voice of the wind, the fog horns and the whistling buoys that bob beyond the breaker line. Geraniums bloom in the window boxes of old Victorians and the salty taste of the sea is carried by the ocean wind.

You asked for replays of my favorite destinations, Nancy: I believe you would be fascinated with Bali, the storied island that's bathed by the Indian Ocean and the Java Sea. Dawn breaks each day like a curtain rising on creation. Along dozens of paths Hindu women march forward, carrying food offerings and flowers to the gods whose spirits occupy tens of thousands of temples.

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