“I don’t have a death wish!” the man told me, convincingly. I later learned his name is Mark. He was probably about 60 years old.
Mark and his wife Cindy were drinking beer at the table next to me on the patio of a bar in Ennis, Montana. He reminded me of a gray-haired Santa Claus. Cindy was probably 15 years younger.
“People back home think we have a death wish!” he told me. Cindy was looking at him, nodding.
Ennis is a remote western town with a three-block main street, a view of the mountains, and an hour’s ride to the next little taste of civilization. I had just checked myself and my motorcycle into the nearby motel following an epic ride through Yellowstone, and walked down to the Gravel Bar an hour before sunset. It was getting a little cool out.
Two and half years earlier Mark and Cindy had sold their belongings, bought a motorcycle, and hit the open roads of North America with just what they could fit on the bike. They stayed only in Airbnbs. They got caught in two hail storms. They met fascinating people who became friends. They traveled 60,000 miles, wore out three sets of tires, and—according to both of them—had the time of their life.
“When we left, our friends and family thought we were crazy,” Cindy told me. “They couldn’t understand why—at this pointing our lives—we would do such a thing.”
Mark turned his chair and leaned toward me. He was becoming more animated. “I looked around and some of the people I’d known for a long time suddenly weren’t there anymore. A few others were sick. And I realized that my own life was getting away from me.”
He said that his parents had always dreamed of traveling more, but that they never did. They would buy a new car instead, and postpone the trip. Then they would find another reason the next year. Eventually, he said, they ran out of time. He didn’t want that for his life with Cindy.
“So when people told me that we have a death wish I set them straight,” he said. “We have a life wish!”
He was so excited at this point I had to laugh. “A life wish?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of that.”
“Well I just made it up!” he said. “What we are doing is living.”
I asked them where they lived now.
“Right here, for now,” Cindy said. “This was one of our favorite stops along the way, and we met some great people. So we decided to rent a place here and see if we’d like it.”
“I heard it was 38 degrees below zero this past winter… and after riding all over the continent, this is where you landed?” I asked.
They admitted that yes, it got colder than they expected. But that it “only lasted a week.”
The next morning I ate breakfast at the local pharmacy, which was their recommendation. Tables were set up like a restaurant and it seemed like the whole town was there. Then I got on my bike and headed for Idaho. But my chat with the couple stuck with me, and I thought about it for many miles.
A “life wish.” I liked it. And I started to wonder how many of my friends and family had one. I examined whether Rilla and I have one. Or whether our kids have one.
Mark and Cindy realized that more excuses weren’t going to get them any closer to their definition of living. Together, they made a conscious choice to take a risk and pursue their life wish. I, for one, am glad they did. And so are they.
I don’t think a life wish requires the sort of risk involved in motorcycling around the country. In fact, I’ve made my daughters promise me only one thing in this life: that they will never get on the back of a motorcycle without calling me first to talk them out of it. Hypocritical? Yes. But still. They’ll find something else.
A life wish begins with a pursuit of real living. A wish for life — which goes beyond the will to live. It’s a desire to know that your investment of hours is giving you a meaningful return. It’s a wish for living that stops the ongoing march of marginal days that turn into marginal weeks, and it compels us to say No to the passing of only vanilla flavored time.
I mentioned that the first stop in my 4,000 mile transcontinental moto-journey was to bid a final farewell to my friend Kristi. She was 51 when she left us, but I can tell you—and so can everyone else who knew her—that Kristi had more than a will to live. She had a life wish. She twisted more life from her days than most of us have even considered. Good thing. Because her days were too few. I’m grateful to Kristi for not waiting. I’m grateful for her example. We need more examples. We should become those examples.
I remember one other thing Mark told me. “I can tell you this,” Mark said, looking directly at me. “If anything does happen to me out here on this bike, I can promise you that I’ll be smiling right up to the last second.”
He then paused, and corrected himself. “Well, maybe the last two seconds I’ll look like this if a truck hits me,” (he opened his mouth and twisted his face into a look of shock and horror). “But up until about the last two seconds, I can promise you I was smiling.”