“Safety is an illusion, of which the pursuit robs the life it is trying to protect.” David Weston
“By and large, humans are kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this,…” Jay Austin
“Life is short and the world is big and we want to make the most out of our youth and good health before they’re gone.” Jay Austin
The article that I began researching two weeks ago on Islamist jihadism and rape will be delayed once again. As I continue to read about the subject, the facts are so disturbing that I simply do not want to write about it until I am ready, both factually and emotionally. As a father of three daughters and grandfather of five granddaughters I am disconcertingly vulnerable to the information that I am uncovering. Please be patient with me as I formulate that particular article, which hopefully will appear soon in a future edition of MtMtE.
Meanwhile, this week I will address an incredibly perplexing situation concerning the deaths of four bicyclists in the Central Asian country of Tajikistan. The deaths were caused by the hands of erstwhile ISIS terrorists.
I can relate to the protagonist, Jay Austin, perhaps a little more than I care to admit. Jay, at 29 years old and I, at almost 60 share some beliefs and convictions. There are certainly many aspects in which we differ, primarily concerning the true meaning and purpose of life; however, the desire for more, to experience life to its fullest, to touch, see, feel and love more remains a driving force in my life. I am deeply sorrowful that this vibrant young man and his, just as colorful traveling mate, Laura Geoghegan, along with their Dutch and Swiss friends, so violently and wickedly lost their lives the day they were killed by the terrorists.
It has been so difficult to write about this subject because I am not sure that Jay Austin and his traveling companion have been given a fair deal in the press, whether “left” or “right,” or liberal or conservative. On the “left,” they have been treated as heroes of modern humanism, holding to a noble hope of the goodness of man, while suffering martyrs’ deaths for their devotion. On the “right,” both Jay and his girlfriend, Lauren have been painted as silly liberal children whose demise came at the hands of wicked people because of the young man’s foolish decisions. I want to paint a different picture.
First, we will look at the circumstances concerning the deaths of these four young people. Second, we will briefly examine the lives of the two Americans, not because their deaths were more significant than the others, but because much has been recorded by them through blogs and letters. Third, we will touch on the matter of living life as an adventure vs living it as a resident inside a safe fortress. Last, we will discuss how to live a really adventurous life while exercising wisdom and prudence.
”On July 29, seven bike riders from Europe and the USA were riding through the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. They were new friends who shared a love for adventure, nature and bike riding. While traversing a mountain pass about 150 km south of the capitol of Dushanbe, they were spotted by 5 young men who later claimed that they had committed bayat, to ISIS. They spotted the riders, passed them and turned their vehicle around. They came back and began to weave in and out of the riders attempting to kill as many as possible. After finishing their initial murderous pass they jumped out of their car and began to stab the riders on the road to death.”
Two Americans, one Dutchman and a Swiss citizen were killed as they rode their bikes through the mountains of Tajikistan. The victims were Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan from the United States, Rene Wokke from the Netherlands and Markus Hummel from Switzerland, according to Tajik authorities. Another three people were injured.
“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” Jay Austin wrote in his blog. ‘People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.’ I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”
Though I have a lot of admiration for Jay Austin, it is the belief that people are “generous and wonderful and kind..” that we part ways. Perhaps it is because I have lived 30 years longer than Jay on a planet filled with evil and wicked people. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Austin decided not to believe in the sinfulness of mankind. In some ways I envy that kind of youthful naiveté, but sadly it came with a price of its own, his life and that of his girlfriend.
Jay and Lauren undertook their trip in order to be an example for others. They believed in the fundamental goodness of people. They valued connection in an era when differences aren’t always valued. They lived the life they longed to see more of in the world: for people to be more kind, generous and adventurous. The world’s not as unknowable, scary or foreign as it might seem, they’d say. There are people you’d like just waiting to meet you, easily accessible wonders, just waiting to surprise you. Indeed, “there’s magic out there.” They had set out on their adventure in July 2017.
Police reportedly tracked the Daewoo Leganza sedan they believed was involved in the incident to the nearby village of Torbulok. The latest reports from Asia-Plus claim that three men wanted in connection with the incident have been killed by police. AFP reported that separate police accounts indicate that at least four suspects have been arrested and five killed by police. RFE/RL reports that additional suspects are wanted by the authorities, including two 19-year-old men and a 21-year-old — the Tajik Interior Ministry published photos of the wanted suspects.
What makes this story so fascinating to me is the gross miscalculation of humankind by both Mr. Austin and Ms Geoghegan. After pouring over many articles, blogs and statements by both of these young adults, I think that both the “left” and the “right” are wrong. Our tragic characters are neither heroes nor fools. They were simply young people trying to make more out of their lives than they were experiencing in their day to day jobs in Washington D.C. They decided to do something that took an enormous amount of courage. They saved their money, quit their jobs, and set off on a journey that would take a couple of years to complete. They refused to be satisfied with the status quo. They wanted to discover the world, even though the risks were many. It should be pointed out, that there were no travel alerts for ISIS activity in Tajikistan. Yes, I believe that they were naive. Perhaps we are all naive at 29; maybe even at 59. They calculated their risks, found that they didn’t outweigh the benefit…and lost. This is neither foolishness nor heroism. It is life. Our risks seldom cost us everything, but there is a proportional relationship between the risks that we take and the pay-off when or if they go well. Little risk, little pay-off. Big risk, big pay-off. It just so happens that there is also a proportional relationship between risk and failure. Sometimes our miscalculations can cost us everything.
What I am advocating is that we understand the risks we are taking and that we understand the consequences that will occur as a result of our miscalculations. None of us knows the calculations that Mr. Austin or Ms. Geoghegan made. This particular miscalculation cost them their lives.
The reality is that increasingly the risks from a happenstance passing of a car full of extremists is multiplying. The possibility of them attacking you and me is not so remote that we can pay it no notice. We celebrate the lives of these young people and their courage to live life to its fullest. As vigorously as I implore you to take risks, I also beg you to use your head, not only your emotions.
Why is the matter of the deaths of the young bike riders important for you and me? There are several things at play which I believe are critical for us.
Safety is an illusion, of which the pursuit robs the life it is trying to protect.
We need to live lives filled with love and adventure. Too often, we are prone to live with the safety button turned on. We are afraid to risk, afraid to travel, afraid to love, and afraid of vulnerability. Simply put, many of the people I know are just afraid. They cover their fear with the notion of stewardship. We don’t take risks because it would be poor stewardship. Nobody ever climbed a mountain without first taking a risk. So many are frozen, afraid to move and to risk everything to live a little bit more.
Risk always comes with a cost and never without a consequence; sometimes it is amazingly great; other times it kills us. The problem is: if we live our lives without risk we may be dead already.
I am convinced that fear is the problem. But it may not only be fear. I think there may be a measure of laziness involved as well. It is easier to vicariously live out our lives through reality TV than to actually live out our own realities. It is certainly less risky. The dangerous combination of fear and laziness is a double punch to the gut. We live out our days in front of the television set eating pizza, talking about someone else’s adventures.
Do the hard stuff. Turn your TV off for a week. Do something dangerous. Ride a roller coaster. Go to the Go-Cart track. Swim in the lake. Jump on a trampoline. Hike the Appalachian Trail. Take a homeless person to dinner; better yet, invite a homeless person to your house for dinner. Invite a Muslim into your home. Give away a month’s salary to someone, just because they are needy.
Don’t ride your bike through Tajikistan. It might be good for you to just stay off your bike in Central Asia for a while.