THE TRIP NOT TRAVELED
By RJ Furth
Sandy and I were supposed to fly to Tokyo on March 24. We taught at the American School in Japan 1990-1994, arriving when Jody and Alan were six and three. The few colleagues who still remain at ASIJ and are about to retire and we wanted to visit Tokyo one last time while we still had friends at the school. As I always do, I had spent months planning the trip. I found the right flights, special hotels, and booked so as to―hopefully―be in Tokyo or Kyoto during the peak of the cherry blossom season. I had purchased Rosetta Stone’s Japanese and had been studying the language for over a month, and I had been reading Musashi, the classic samurai novel. Then, on February 7, I suffered a heart attack. That might not have stopped us from traveling to Japan, but a few days before the heart attack I had learned that I had melanoma on my neck. The surgery, which was delayed due to the heart attack and the blood thinners that I’ve been on, is scheduled for April 1. (No joke. I requested the date in an effort to inject some humor.) There will be no trip to Japan this year.
I’ve vowed not to write about my heart attack nor the melanoma and the surgery to remove it nor my recovery from both. I used Facebook to inform people about my medical problems, but I’ve refrained from posting updates. I’m not fishing for sympathy. I’ve led a charmed life and I’d be a total dickhead to whine about a canceled trip. I know too many people with serious long-term problems (leukemia, hepatitis C), and I’m fully aware that my health issues are temporary. My health is my personal business and I don’t wish to make it a public thing. I’ve talked and emailed with many, so people know my spirits are good and my recovery rapid. I’m writing this essay in order to lament a brief interruption of something I love dearly: my ability to travel. Sandy and I have traveled together since we married in 1981. Our first trip, two months after our wedding, was to Malaysia for our first job, at the International School of Kuala Lumpur. We stopped in Tokyo and Hong Kong for our honeymoon. During our two years in Malaysia we traveled to Australia, Sumatra and around Malaysia, and we traveled overland through Asia and Europe on our way home to the States, a five month trip. We haven’t stopped traveling since. Since leaving teaching in 2002 and returning to live in Colorado we have continued to travel. Since 2006, when we bought a flat in London, we’ve traveled to London twice a year―usually in the Spring and Fall―with side trips to Asia, north Africa and around Europe. Much of our traveling has been to visit schools as part of Sandy’s job as an educational consultant. Life on the road has been enlightening and entertaining, and I must admit I spend a lot of my time planning and dreaming about the next trip. Along with writing and music, traveling has become a huge part of how I view myself. That is why the abrupt pause in my travels has hit me so hard.
I’m lucky to be alive and I appreciate every day, though I appreciated every day before my heart attack. Few people get to live and travel as I do. If all goes well with the melanoma surgery I’ll be on the road in early May, driving to Chicago before heading to Kirksville, Missouri, for Jody’s graduation from medical school. (Dr. Jody Sage Musso! Wow!) Sandy and I will then drive to Iowa to visit schools before heading back to Colorado. It’s not the same as flying to Tokyo and viewing cherry blossoms in Kyoto, and I’ll be covering ground that I’ve driven through many, many times over the years. Still, the urge to travel is strong and our lovely house in Colorado is starting to feel small and claustrophobic, so I look forward to driving the Midwest yet again. Come September I’ll be back in the air, heading for London and a walking trip in the Cotswolds as well as side trips to Scotland (friends, visiting schools, drinking single-malt) and possibly Spain. We’re already considering various trips in 2015, including the delayed visit to Japan. There’s a lot more travel and writing ahead. As I’ve said many times, life is good.