I love to travel. I have always found it enthralling to visit new places, meet people different than myself and experience unfamiliar cultures. Placing myself in a context outside of my normal surroundings allows me to get to know myself better by challenging my assumptions and convictions. This is true even when I travel to places with which I am very familiar. By revisiting people and places I know, not part of my daily environment, I check in, traveling through time and space using them as a compass measuring personal change and growth.
When departing for a recent trip to the States, as is often the case upon boarding the airplane, I felt the excitement of the journey that lay ahead. For me, the source of fear and anxiety for some, brings with it the promise of discovery and growth.
During the flight to New York I visited a very different world than the one in which I normally live. Through his anecdotes and our conversation, the man next to whom I sat transported me to a world I thought had ceased to exist.
At the age of seventy-seven, Glenn had been brought to Israel for two weeks in order to judge horse shows and teach horsemanship. Having trained top riders throughout the world on his ranch in Texas, he had been invited by three of his former students to visit them and to teach in Israel. While on this, his second trip to Israel, he had accomplished things that no one else in the country could do. For instance, within half an hour he trained a young colt upon which the Israelis had given up. With skills and experience such as this, tempered by a modest confidence, Glenn epitomized my image of the professional cowboy the likes of which I had never met off of the silver screen.
Glenn told me other stories such as a cattle-run he had recently been on in Wyoming during which he and his partners hadn’t seen any other people for thirty days while they drove the cattle across the state and slept on the ground around a campfire in their bedrolls. Listening to him tell me about his life, I realized that while it sounded primitive, horse-trading was big business and his expertise was not limited to horsemanship. While he had had about 100 head, he and his wife, now working on her Masters degree in education, had raised a family of twelve and had a very successful business. With his soft-spoken manner, he complemented me on my fathering skills as I interrupted our conversation to spend some time with my children. With the honor that comes from not being too proud, a cowboy hat, silver belt-buckle and cowboy boots, Glenn imbued a politeness and old-world charm that is rarely if ever found in Israel or in the America I was going to visit, especially among those who reach his level of success.
Upon first glance, I did not know what to make of Glenn, but once we struck up a friendship, he became a valuable reminder to me as I came to understand why I was drawn to him so.
Glenn, a real-live cowboy, symbolized something innately American which seems to have been lost. As an American expatriate, I have mixed feelings about the Americanization of Israel and of the world. It is difficult for me to accept the culture that seems to encourage wealth for wealth’s sake as materialism and consumerism become ends unto themselves. Many people, it seem, work only so that they can buy more stuff.
American companies, exporting their products and marketing them at home as well, fail to promote the values upon which America‚s prosperity, wealth and power was built.
Coming from another country, I was more struck than ever at America’s immense amount of wealth, the enormity of which most of my American peers have no awareness or appreciation.
As the idyllic cowboy I met on the plane reintroduced me to America, he reminded me of that part of myself, the values of self-reliance and a solid work ethic, which I appreciate as the result, in part, of being born and bred in America
In Israel too the legacy of the chalutzim (pioneers) working the land is as distant and removed as is the cowboy for most Americans.
During my basic training in the IDF, my platoon was taken to a storehouse with metal bed frames thrown every which way. We were told that our commanders had a meeting and that in the meantime, we should tidy up the warehouse. Most of the soldiers found a place to sit and light up a cigarette. I asked a couple of my buddies to help me straighten up the beds. The other guys laughed at us saying that we were suckers, that we did not have to do this. They were right. We would not have been disciplined had we not stacked the bed frames neatly, nor did our commanders give those of us who straightened up any sort of reward. We had an hour. We could have just lounged around. Instead we chose to do work – and it felt good.