I'm not exactly sure when the idealism that many enjoy early in life first came over me, but I knew when I graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University that I was going to do big things. I had a gift. I just had to figure out what it was.
The initial rush evaporated after about 18 months, but I plugged on. I had checked all the boxes on my list of things I wanted to do, save one, and I remained convinced that I was destined for greatness.
And then I didn't have a job.
My wife, Sherrie, had started an outbound tour operation in 1981 that became the first cruise-only agency in Tennessee. We were fortunate that our strengths and weaknesses were complementary, and we made a powerful team when I came into the company in 1993.
Fast-forward almost 10 years, and I woke up one morning with the certainty that I'd been put on this Earth to serve others and help make their lives better. I've written about some notable examples of how that philosophy played out. ("Bon Voyage to a special traveler," March 16, 2015, and "Billie's final odyssey," Nov. 2, 2009). I had another arise recently.
The widow of a longtime client called to relate how much they had appreciated the many trips I had arranged for them over the years and that the last one they had taken was the very best of all.
A popular meme making the rounds shows "Peanuts" characters Charlie Brown and Snoopy gazing out on a lake. Charlie Brown says, "One day, we will die, Snoopy," to which Snoopy replies, "Yes, but every other day we will live."
And that's when it occurred to me:
- At some point in your childhood, you and your friends went outside to play together for the last time, and nobody knew it.
- At some point, everything you buy is a lifetime supply.
- Celebrate and enjoy your next birthday as if it were your last.
- Celebrate that next anniversary as if it were your last.
- Celebrate the next holiday gathering with all your loved ones or wherever you are as if it were your last.
- Celebrate today as if it's the last time you'll wake up.
Sooner or later, you're going to be right. But there will be so many great times you had getting there!
And if you love or think a lot of someone, don't wait until they are gone. Reach out privately and tell that someone what they have meant in your life and why you are better because they were in it.
It's like this: As you read this, I am on the way home from probably the best vacation I have ever taken: a Rhine river cruise that visited Christmas markets in several cities along the way.
In this season of giving, happiness and introspection, this column is my gift to you. Treat every vacation you plan for someone as if it were their last, and you want to be sure it is the best they have ever had. Sooner or later, you'll be right. And think of all the happiness you will have brought to so many people along the way.