Jalene's Discovery On The Road To Patagonia
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with an old friend for the first time in years. She really touched me with her stories, but even more so with her presence. She was very quiet and she listened intently over her mug of tea. Jalene Case has been a friend of mine for over a decade. Jalene is in her mid-fifties, and a few years ago, she and her husband Keith did something that is unthinkable for most people at any age: they quit their high-powered jobs, packed up their belongings, set aside their lives, and rode their motorcycles from Oregon to Patagonia. Jalene chronicled this amazing journey of adventure, personal transformation, and empowerment on her blog.
As Jalene and I sat on the couch in my art studio, I asked her, “How has the world changed for you since going on that trip?” She paused for some time while she thought about her answer. As she responded, tears welled in her eyes. She said, “You know, Annamieka, there are just such wonderful people out there in the world! As we were traveling, there were so many people who approached us with kindness, and who offered us things that we needed. And people here in the United States said, But aren’t you scared? Aren’t you scared to go out there—into Mexico, Central America, South America?”
Jalene looked out the window of my studio, across the train tracks, to the construction site beyond, and to the homeless campsite nearby, with its fires burning to keep the residents warm. She gestured out the window and asked, “Is it dangerous out there? Yeah, some of the time. But most of the time, there are really wonderful people out there. Some of the time, there aren’t. It’s exactly the same everywhere else!” Jalene said that’s really what has changed for her about the world, both in her perception of it and her behavior in it. In fact, Jalene and Keith have committed to offering hospitality to international travelers now that they are back home in Oregon.
These insights resonated deeply with me on two levels. First, I feel that I see evidence in the news constantly that our culture is full of hatred and fear of “the other,” whether that is manifested in racism, xenophobia, anti-immigration sentiments, religious hatred, and other damaging forms of disconnect. These are enforced through personal beliefs and actions as well as through policy, so it is a problem for our whole society. This fear and hatred are irrational, and Jalene’s lesson points that out: the people of other lands (and other religions, or sexual orientations, or whatever) are no scarier than “we” are (whoever “we” may be). People are people, and we all want the same things, and most people want to help and be decent.
Jalene’s story also brought to mind my own travels throughout Mexico during my early twenties. I traveled to Mexico solo numerous times over the years, meeting critically impoverished people as I participated in a social work program. I witnessed the epidemic of the missing men who had gone to the United States to find work, and the struggle of the women, children, and elders left behind to run a society without them. What I also encountered was incredible generosity and open-heartedness. There was a willingness to connect that I had never experienced in the United States, where we are often more shut off in our private homes and private vehicles.
When I was traveling to Mexico solo as an early twentysomething, I too got questions like, Aren’t you scared for your safety? But no—because people are awesome, and people want to help! Seriously, 99% of people want to help. Anything bad that may happen could also happen here, or anywhere.
As Jalene shared this powerful answer, I felt a strong affirmation that what she was saying was truth and wisdom. If you’re looking for more wisdom as well as some great stories, I suggest you read Jalene’s blog. She’s a fascinating person, and her incredible journey continues to inform the work she’s doing now as a coach, public speaker, and writer.
The next time the news is trying to sell you fear and trying to convince you that people are terrible and certain parts of the world are dangerous, think of Jalene’s message. She went from North America through Central America and all the way down to the tip of South America, meeting wonderful people all the way. That’s a lot of data points! There are kind people everywhere, and humans innately crave connection. Trust each other! Go out into the world with an open heart, giving and receiving.