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Dreams Take Flight

By: Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, Bowen Island, Canada
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant

 We met at the designated spot: the lobby of the Hotel David in Jerusalem, where the movie stars, literary VIP' s, and political heads of state stay when the city isn' t reeling from explosions and gun fire (which are actually rare in Jerusalem, even during the war with Lebanon - not that you' d know this from the media reports). I wasn' t staying at the Hotel David and neither was he, but it somehow seemed appropriate for our first time.

When I asked how we' d recognize each other, he said, “We' ll know.”

I was 29 years old; I think he was in his early fifties. He wasn' t as handsome as my mother described and I imagined; I suppose two decades in Israel (or anywhere) can affect one' s appearance for better or worse. His belly was hefty, which surprised me - all the Israelis I saw on television, particularly the soldiers, were lean and strong-looking. He was short, like me, and had dark brown curly hair, like me. He sported my nose, my eyes and my small jaw.
He' s my dad.

I traveled from Edmonton, Canada, to Jerusalem, Israel to meet him for the first time. He hadn' t invited me; in fact, in our last phone conversation three years earlier he deflected my suggestion that I visit, saying the time wasn' t right. This time I was ready (more or less) regardless of the agreeability of time or his opinion.

Though I believe timing is everything I also know that sometimes goals and dreams need to be pursued immediately because the time will almost never be perfect. There are places to visit, people to meet, dreams to pursue; if you' re waiting for work, family, friends, money - everything, anything - to fall into place before your adventure can take flight, your wait could outlast your dreams.

Looking back on meeting my dad in Jerusalem, I see how I faced my fears headfirst just  because I was tired of waiting.

As soon as the idea flickered I sent out feelers for open doors. Instead of calling, this time I sent my father a letter saying I' d be in Israel at a specific time. I' d love to meet you, but I understand if you have a family, making it hard for you to have contact with  me. I' ll call you when I get to Jerusalem. I wanted to give him advance warning, time to think about his response. I researched the history, culture, and current political situation in Israel - and received the green light from the Canadian Embassy. When looking into flights, I discovered I could stop off in Italy for free for as long as I wanted; I planned a two week layover in Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre on my way to Jerusalem. I also discovered it was possible and inexpensive to fly from Rome to Cairo, Egypt and take the bus to Jerusalem, so I did just that. To allay my trepidation about traveling alone, I talked with a couple of women who had fantastic holidays traveling solo, and recalled my own wonderful and exciting experiences hitchhiking alone through the United Kingdom and parts of Europe (granted, I was a reckless eighteen year old at the time). I' d traveled enough to know that people are friendly and welcoming to a single woman journeying solo. I also took various safety precautions (e.g. wedding band on my left hand, baggy nondescript clothes, photocopied passport and traveler' s cheques receipts in strategic places) - so I wasn' t afraid of that aspect of the trip.

The scariest part was the unknown. I wasn' t sure if my dad would even meet me - the ultimate rejection - so I gave myself time and space to work up to calling him. The side trips to Italy and Egypt were my rewards for having the courage to reach out to him (in this case the reward came before the chore). I didn' t know if I could even communicate with him, as he spoke halting English and I didn' t speak Hebrew. I didn' t know if he had a traditional Jewish wife who would give me - his illegitimate daughter from Canada - the evil eye or some ancient Jewish curse. I didn' t know how many children he had, or if he had any siblings. I gave myself time to mentally and emotionally prepare by moving slowly, one step at a time closer to my goal and the real reason I went to Jerusalem.

I talked about my plans and my fears. In my hostel in the Old City in Jerusalem, I met a fellow traveler - a single Dutch woman whose sense of fun, strength, and adventure gave me courage (ever notice the word encourage ”means to “fill with courage? If you find people who will encourage you, and you' ll have little choice but to chase your dreams). Every morning at breakfast, my friend would ask if I called my father yet. Every morning I replied, Not yet. I will later today or maybe tomorrow.

”At the beginning, I didn' t call because naturally I wanted to explore the Holy Land, and her ancient history and religion. After a week, I didn' t call because I was far too busy enjoying the company of a sexy, interesting, smart guy from Australia who lived in Jerusalem. After two weeks, I realized I only had one week left in Jerusalem, and, more importantly, I was afraid to call my dad. That fear dwarfed all the others, such as traveling alone, taking alternate bus routes due to bomb threats, or watching Israeli soldiers walk around with machine guns casually slung over their shoulders.

But then I did it. I simply forced myself to make the call - one that I started dialing several times before but hung up each time, telling myself I would call tomorrow.

“Why did you wait to phone me

You were here almost three weeks already! was the first thing my dad said to me when I called him. When can we meet?” was the second. He had been waiting for me, all the time I was in Italy, Egypt, and his home town - he was waiting to meet me.

None of my fears were realized: his wife was a fantastic Canadian woman, from my own birth city, Vancouver, and with whom I connected immediately (she wasn' t familiar with any ancient Jewish curses). They insisted I stay with them for the remainder of my trip, and protested at how little time I had left. His daughters and son were stunned to learn of my existence, but welcoming and friendly nonetheless. His childhood friend, who held me as a baby right after I was born in Vancouver, brought his Canadian wife over for dinner; they became mainstays in my Israeli life.

I asked my dad why he didn' t want me to visit him when I first suggested it three years ago, and he said that his mother was dying and it was a terrible time for the family. He thought it would be too stressful for me to visit then. For me, it was a childhood dream deferred, but not forgotten.

What dreams bubble up inside you when you' re driving to work, talking with friends, or vacuuming your living room? Do you dream of going on safari in Africa, taking an extreme vacation in the mountains, or volunteering to build a house in Mexico? Whatever it is - it' s time to get moving, a step at a time! Start by sending out feelers and doing a little research. Turn off the computer and television, let yourself feel your fear and reluctance, and confide in your friends. Know that the scariest part of the journey is the unknown - which is likely brimming over with friendly people, fulfilling experiences, and exciting adventures. If I can seek out my dad in one of the most volatile, unpredictable areas in the world - then you, too, can help your dreams take flight.

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