Like most passengers on the ship, our cruise began two years ago.

The scheduled date of our voyage to celebrate my wife’s second master’s degree was April 2020. Like all passengers on this voyage, we got canceled and given the choice of money back or a voucher for future travel at 125% and an 18-month window to rebook. So here we are, navigating the “new” normal that includes spitting daily into a tube to test for COVID before going out to the daily excursion.

This Danube River trip stretches from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary, and includes daily guided walks and other activities with lots of free time on the ship to eat, drink, meet new friends and think, mostly about how lucky we are to live in a free nation, not one dictated by communist rule where choice doesn’t exist, and differences of opinion can land you in jail, if not dead.

Our tour guide in Slovakia shared her city, explaining what it was like under communist rule. Her father stayed out of harm’s way while her mother, brave and outspoken, was a rabble-rouser, leading to scarce job opportunities and constant fear for her family. Her mother took her, as a young girl, to the mandatory voting place, but refused to vote for the one candidate on the ballot, thus falling into a very small percentage of disobedient citizens. When communism fell, her mother celebrated in the streets. Today, our guide appreciates democracy, which she says “while not perfect, is better than the alternatives” she’s seen in her 60 years.

With free time, “Dead by Dawn” by Camden’s Paul Doiron was on the reading list — my first pleasure reading book in over two years. Following the adventures of Game Warden and Detective Mike Bowditch in this page-turner, while looking at the river’s peaceful flow past European landscape, allowed opportunity to slow down and look at where I’ve been, and where I want to go.

Knowing the Ukraine border is a short driving distance gives perspective, even when life on a cruise ship is about forgetting and leaving the real world behind.

Thoughts and snippets from the lens of an appreciative American

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes, and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” — Frederic Chopin, pianist and composer (1810-1849)

When broken down, the lens tells me it is the simple things in life that make it powerful. Often, what we do for others is more satisfying than what we do for ourselves. As the war in Ukraine rages on with civilians slaughtered, nothing else should matter. War is fought under the guise of patriotism but there is nothing holy about it, or righteous.

When you are on a boat with random people, you see one’s politics don’t matter, but freedom does. When you look at history, as we are now in Budapest, you see cyclical twists it has taken and how tyranny rises and falls. The tricks of Hitler, and now Putin, are eerily similar, as are threats we face in America.

The bronze shoe memorial on the riverside begs us to remember the slaughtered Jews of Hungary. We must not forget, and we mustn’t let our country fall into tyranny under the guise of patriotism. Lined up, Jews were ordered by Hungary’s Fascist militia to take off their shoes — where many hid their treasured possessions and money — with the shoes themselves valuable to the soldiers who executed the innocent men, women and children, then pushed them into the Danube below, picking up the discarded shoes.

*****

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” — Maya Angelou, poet, (1928-2014)

It is the journey that is joy, not the destination. It is people met along the way that enrich you, challenge you, make you a better human. Rather than looking at what they lack, perhaps when we see what they offer, we get a perspective that allows joy.

“The Train” (author unknown) inspires one to understand we all travel a different path, but like snowflakes, all unique, we all share similar characteristics. And so it is with mankind. “At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel by our side. As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant, i.e., our siblings, friends, children, strangers and even the love of your life. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone. Others will step down over time and leave a permanent vacuum. Some, however, will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize they vacated their seats. This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers — requiring that we give the best of ourselves. The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are. It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty, we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life. I wish you a joyful journey for the years on your train of life. Reap success, give lots of love and be happy.”

To be continued next week.

Reade Brower is the owner of these newspapers.