This is not my first trip to Scotland. A little over three years ago, my recently-retired friend Charles called me up one day. “Do you have a passport?” he asked. When I replied yes, he continued right away: “Do you want to go to Scotland?” I quickly learned that he wanted to go to Scotland about two or three weeks later to attend the wedding of a friend, and he felt that he needed someone to assist him along the way. Who can turn down a free trip to Scotland with a friend? So I spent a memorable week visiting Charles’ friends Donald and Sheena and attending their daughter Gillian’s wedding. (A pretty extensive photo gallery is already online.)
It was Charles’ last international trip in a lifetime of journeys to wonderful and special places. Not long after our return, Charles learned that he had ALS, often known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and he died of it last summer. I had the deep honor and privilege of preaching at his memorial service in Queens last September.
Tonight, as I walked through Terminal 7 at JFK Airport to catch my flight to Reykjavik, I passed the gate where Charles and I spent a couple hours waiting for the flight to London that would put us on our way to Scotland. This was the first of many moments on this trip when I know that I will be thinking of Charles. I’ll spend my first four days in Scotland with Donald and Sheena, and I know we’ll be swapping stories and sharing memories of our friend. It will not be easy being on this trip without him, but I know that he would be enjoying every minute of it or at least be looking for a full report upon my return!
The last time I saw Charles in May of 2011, he and I presented a slideshow of pictures from our trip (and several of Charles’ previous trips) to Scotland at the retirement community in Dallas where he moved to be near his brother. While at that point Charles’ body was declining, his brain was sharp as ever. Sharing those memories and stories together was an incredible joy, in largest part because I know how much he loved that trip.
So as I make my way across the pond once again, I am grateful for the traveling memories along the way: for little reminders of my friend Charles and especially our time together in Scotland, for the joy of being back in a place that he so deeply loved and visiting people who knew him well, and for the privilege of making my own traveling memories in this place over the next twenty-five days that will surely go with me for a lifetime.