I write this having freshly returned from a journey of a lifetime, spent in the company of storytellers. We embarked with a purpose: to hear and share stories of hope and faith. Our destination was the Dominican Republic, specifically her rocky coasts, verdant hills, and ample sugar cane fields. Traveling in with ministry professionals from Cross Catholic Outreach, we witnessed firsthand their work with the poorest of the poor.
Strangely, the older I get, the more I find myself eager to pack my bags and explore the world. My work has carried me to Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. These days, I prefer mission trips that carry me directly into the lives and homes of new friends just waiting to be met. When I pour over the stamps in my passport, it’s not the museums or restaurants I remember most. Don’t get me wrong: I love a beautiful beach or a tourist attraction too. But what captures my heart are the memories of the people I meet along the way. They’ve fundamentally changed the way I experience the world and how I hope to travel in the years I have ahead of me.
On my way home, I sat next to a couple around my age who were just returning home from a week in the Caribbean. As they described their trip, I recognized commonalities between our experiences. Their favorite moments were spent in the company of locals, savoring the sights, sounds and smells of the “real” place they were visiting. As they reminisced, my mind flashed to the pack of fraternity brothers who had been in front of me in the customs line and likely had a very different plan for their spring break. Same destination. Different agendas.
We, seniors, travel with purpose.
We embark on pilgrimages in the company of our faith families to pray in sacred spaces.
We remember eras of the past and the lessons their monuments, battlefields and memorials teach us.
We journey to see and sometimes minister to our loved ones.
We retrace our roots.
We take to the road to marvel at the natural world around us, and dream of adventures yet to come.
I carried two recent stories of seniors traveling in my heart when I embarked for Santo Domingo.
First was an account about St. Teresa of Kolkata, who in 1989 finally received a travel visa to return to her native Albania after over 60 years of exile away from home and family. She has become my new traveling companion and intercessor for travel-related delays.
Second was “In Viaggio,” a recent film documenting Pope Francis’ 37 trips visiting 53 countries during the first nine years of his pontificate. The filmmakers intimately captured the pontiff’s human connections in these places. People matter.
Traveling as we age challenges yet enlivens. For some of us, the way is slow and burdensome. Yet we endure the hardships with a sense of patience. We know the reward that awaits us when we arrive at our destination will be worth the trials.
Unpacking from this most recent trip involves more than simply laundering my clothes. There’s a stubborn stain I picked up from the afternoon I spent learning to make cement forms for simple, storm-proof houses in San Juan de la Maguana. The patient workers allowed me to “help” them even though my efforts probably needed fixing afterward. The stain, in truth, is a precious memory.
I also will unpack fragrant recollections from the mountain community who welcomed us to the grand opening of their women-owned cheese factory and the commencement ceremony of the first-ever graduating class of the Blessed Carlo Acutis technology center. I will ponder the futures of the children of the housing communities of Bateyes 412 and 106, who danced with me while their Haitian fathers labored for hours in the scorching heat of the nearby sugar cane fields. I will channel the example of Maggy, a woman who has devoted her life to ministering to the young single mothers of her barrio. Maggy helps them find a way to become educated as they dream of something better for themselves and their babies.
I travel to see the world, meet God’s people and connect more deeply with our common stories. My confidence rests in the One who loves us all and continues to guard my steps and point the way. And because I am older, and hopefully wiser than I once was, my prayers travel with me, and remain with all of my new friends.
Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. “Senior Standing” appears monthly at OSV News.