I love to hike. I could truly say that it’s one of my favorite pastimes. I could honestly do it everyday. I have had some incredible adventures throughout the years hiking. I have hiked alone, I have hiked with my wife, Lisa, I have hiked with friends, and I have hiked with strangers. My hikes have been beautiful, my hikes have been frightening, my hikes have caused injury, my hikes have been long, my hikes have been short, my hikes have been hot, and my hikes have been cold, my hikes have been…oh, you get the idea…my hikes have simply been incredible experiences.
I tend to hike on mission…sometimes so much so that I miss the beauty of it all. However, when you hike on mission, getting to the hoped for destination in record time becomes the objective even at the chagrin of those around you. Lisa and my children, on the other hand, have a more respectful leisurely approach to hiking. The destination is not very important, and the pace is really not important. In fact, one could surmise that the pace has a direct correlation to comfort – the more discomfort the slower the pace and vice versa. I would have to actually admit that the approach Lisa (and most rational humans take) is the more reasonable one.
One such hike recently occurred when Lisa and my daughter joined me on a small trail in the mountains of Switzerland (my homeland). The weather, the trail and the destination (a small alpine restaurant serving a famous Rosti) all made for a very enjoyable adventure. The hike was set up perfectly. I, in true fashion, was ahead of Lisa and my daughter and would stop from time to time to see where they were, wait, provide the obligatory words of encouragement, then jump back on my mission. I did notice that my nine-year-old daughter, experiencing these types of hikes for the first time, was quite the trooper and keeping up despite a few face plants in some Swiss cow patties (which are made, BTW, of chocolate).
Half way up the side of the mountain I stopped to check on my hiking companions and noticed a visitor was fast approaching them. Initially, that concerned me because someone was actually gaining on us and making better time then our troop, which was utterly (cow pun unintentional) unacceptable. Remember, I am on a mission and dealing with a lot of internal conflict. Win but be nice about it. Tough!
The “fast hiker” was a single man with a dog. I could observe this fellow from my perch higher on the trail. I enjoyed watching the dog wander off, from time to time, to push his limits with the grazing herd of annoyed cows. The dog, like my companions, also wanted to often stop for some rest. A few minutes passed, and the “fast hiker” made it to where my wife and daughter were, which gave them another excuse to stop to have a conversation. The brief reprieve delighted everyone, including me, who now had more time to gain ground. However, what if this person was not nice, a hostile hiker, a bad dude? Remember, we were in the Swiss Alps, and you never know who may steel your cheese, melt your chocolate or uncork your wine bottle.
The new troop of friends eventually made their way to where I was reluctantly waiting, and I was encouraged to join in the banter too…..two conversations going on…one in my head and one out of my mouth. Not uncommon. The one in my head was not as nice as the one coming out of my mouth. Not uncommon. A conversation started up, and the niceties were shared. The “fast hiker” was actually delightful. We talked about various hikes, he being on this one for the first time as were we. We talked about the dog, whose name was Tequila, and we talked about what hikers talk about on a hike.
I was curious as to why the dog’s name was Tequila. Who names a dog Tequila? Had he won the dog on a bad bar bet, had he drank too much one time and found the dog forever his, or was it the idea that a dog is a much better companion than a potent drink? Not sure. He eventually decided it was time to go. The dog apparently no longer needed the rest, and Lisa and my daughter appeared to have recovered as well. The parting words of our new friend were simple. Acknowledging that we were probably never going to see each other again, he simply said, “Have a nice life.” I pondered that as we finished our hike and finally had our delightful lunch of Rosti in the Alpine shack.
I pondered what residue we leave behind the people we encounter. I pondered that many of the conversations throughout the day are with people that I will never speak with again. Think about it. Yesterday, I spoke to a customer service representative for Delta Airlines regarding a change on an airline ticket. I will never speak to that person again. How about the hostess at a restaurant in a city you are visiting? How about the person that handles the return of that purchase you made (though the UPS driver is now considered family, thanks to Amazon Prime)? Think about the many experiences we have with people that are only going to happen once, a onetime encounter. The idea is somewhat staggering when I also think that I am the representative of the love and character of God here on this earth. Does the Bible not say that we are the ambassadors of God? I like the residue of “have a nice life.” I find that it puts things in perspective. The hike becomes larger, more of a metaphor of our lives. I find so much of life represented within a hike, even down to the smallest of details. I guess it’s why I like hiking so much.
I think of the residue I left behind when Lisa and I found ourselves in a conversation with David, the owner of a nice boutique restaurant in a small town called Gryon. He was kind enough to come by and sit with us as we had a delightful conversation about life, including what prompted him to move from Australia with his family to open a restaurant, his hobby of kite boarding and on and on. He happened to mention an upcoming bucket list trip he was taking within the next month to go kite surfing in New Caledonia. We didn’t think twice about the conversation outside of noting that we were touched by his willingness and graciousness to care so much about his guests. Lisa and I learned about a month later that David was tragically killed by a shark attack during this adventure that he had talked about. I was sad, but more importantly wondered what residue I left him in our conversation. I know that his family has suffered, his business has suffered and his loved ones mourn his tragic departure. Did I use the opportunity to wish him a “nice life”? Did I leave him better off? Did he want to know more of Jesus from our encounter? Did I even mention Jesus? So, as you think about your day today, think about those once in a lifetime encounters and make them count.
“…God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation — an aroma redolent with life” (2 Corinthians 2:15, The Message).
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.