My wife and I just got back from our first trip ever to Hawaii. It was incredible. It was everything we imagined it to be. I saw the most exquisite sunsets I have seen anywhere in the world. The beaches were immaculate. The native islanders were some of the most friendly people I have ever met. Our trip was a marvelous cap to an incredible twenty-five years of marriage.
As I watched out the window on our return flight, I was reminiscing about the many long flights I have taken to return home after extended trips, to many places around the world. As I compared my week in Hawaii to so many trips (most of them business), obviously, Hawaii was near the top of list. Then I tried to determine if I had been on a trip that would top it.
I smiled when I realized I had, on a number of occasions. I grew sentimental as I remembered walking into a play room of an orphanage for mentally challenged teenaged boys, along with my brother and our sons. We had brought a small suitcase full of dolls and stuffed animals that we bought at a dollar store in the states, incorrectly assuming that we would be giving the toys to children from both genders. As we handed each resident their own toy, the first toy any of them had ever owned, there were squeals of joy regardless of whether the recipient got a little pink doll or a brown teddy bear. I watched those mentally challenged young men rub their toys on their faces while cooing and talking softly. The most memorable was a seventeen year-old boy who kept saying. “I finally got a baby! I always wanted a baby! Thank you for my baby!”
On my last visit to Russia I watched a wonderful orphanage worker playing with several toddlers behind a plastic fence play-barrier. As I approached the barrier, a two-year old little girl with Down syndrome walked over and reached up, indicating that she wanted to be held. I picked her up and cuddled her while she jabbered nonsensical words. Then she stroked my face and I let her take my glasses which she handled curiously before feeling the cool glass with her oversized tongue. After holding and playing with her for ten minutes, it was time to go. I put her back on the other side of the barrier with her peers and the worker who was entertaining them. She cried and stomped her feet. Then she lifted her arms, wanting me to pick her back up again. There wasn’t time. As I walked away she plopped her bottom down on the floor and sobbed. I so wanted to stay and play.
Some of the best times I have ever had were sitting on the floor of an orphanage playing with children. Others were having snowball fights with little boys on a frozen bay and chasing them down to get my gloves back. I have played Duck, Duck, Goose! on matted carpet and had the time of my life. The sunsets weren’t exquisite. There were no hula dancers to entertain me. The food was immeasurably inferior to Kalua Pork and the sounds were not calm surf washing up on to perfectly tranquil white-sand beaches. Rather, there were squeals and screams from children.
I have stood on mountain tops. I have driven my own Corvette at 125 miles per hour and rented cars on the Autoban at 150 miles per hour. I have jumped motorcycles and fished for trophy salmon in Alaska. I have been more fortunate than anyone deserves to be and I have done things that would fill almost anyone’s bucket list. But most of those things still left me wanting. Orphanages are the only places that ever left me feeling empty and full at the same time.
I have to tell you, if you have never been in an orphanage, you’re missing out. Once you have played with children who are well-cared for, but starving for individual attention, Hawaii just doesn’t cut it anymore. I’m convinced that there is no place or activity on earth that compares.