There are a few obvious things that can truly change a person’s life: marriage, divorce, and the birth of a child. Those are the big three, but for me, it was a vacation that changed my life.
In the summer of 2009 I was given the opportunity to travel to Israel. My initial reaction to the proposed trip was simple: no way. What would be the point of me going to Israel? My thoughts were that only religious people “vacation” in Israel.
But after giving the trip more thought I decided to take a chance and go. At the time I had no idea the significance of changing my mind would have in my life and prepared to embark on my first international trip.
Preparation was simple; bring shorts and t-shirts with comfortable walking shoes. Needless to say, I went two for three on the packing. Shorts-check, T-shirts-check, shoes-half check. Somehow only one of my shoes ended up in my luggage, so the first order of business after landing in Tel Aviv was to find a shoe store. My first international experience began with me bargaining for a pair of shoes in a market with an old shop owner, and to this day I think I could have driven the price lower—I overpaid.
Over the course of ten days, I got to see some amazing sites like the Temple Mount, Garden of Gethsemane, and the Dead Sea. I have never taken so many photos in my life, but as great as these sites were they are not what stood out from the trip. I have pictures to remember the physical things, but ruins and seas can’t teach you things and challenge your point of view.
What I will always remember from Israel are the people and the connections that I made with the people in the travel group and with the locals. Our tour guide, Abraham, said something that I can honestly say I will never forget. I was asking him how long he had been a tour guide, to which he responded 19 years, and then I asked why.
His response was priceless: “Wesley, 19 years ago I came to the realization that I was not going to be the richest man in the graveyard. So I might as well be doing something I enjoy.”
Abraham’s philosophy of life is something to be admired. Almost every week he gets to share his story and listen to other people’s stories while he shows them his homeland. It is a job he takes much pride in and as a result enjoys the experience. Abraham’s attitude had me looking at things differently when I got back to the states: I shouldn’t be afraid to follow my dreams and invest myself in things I enjoy, regardless of what others may think.
Leaving Israel left me feeling grateful in so many different ways. I saw unbelievable poverty in the countryside and teenagers serving in the military, kids who had just finished high school. When I drink a bottle of water I now think of the rural inhabitants who get their water from a well, and next time I feel tired in class I remember the high school graduates who don’t have the opportunity of college until they serve their country. Israelis consider it a way of life.
My trip to Israel was life-changing, and I do not exaggerate that sentiment. I got to see some of the most amazing sites in the world, but the people are what made the trip memorable. The joy and desire of Abraham coupled with my newfound gratefulness made Israel a trip that changed my perspective on life.