Europe International Trips Travel Blog

A More Difficult, More Thoughtful Day

Written by Don Pogreba

Today was my first difficult day of the trip, and one of those moments when I wish I were a better writer,  more able to convey what I experienced and why it affected my day so much.

The day started with a drive into Liegarnes,  the largest town close to where I’m staying.  On the edge of town,  I was stopped by my first Spanish traffic jam : a group of young herders bringing their cattle into town,  using only long thin sticks to control the animals.  The combination of the theatrical rage of the acid-washed jeans wearing jerk in front of me and the spectacle of the wholly uncooperative cows made for an excellent start to the day.

Eventually,  I got through and made my way into what was some kind of market Day in the town. Vendors were selling everything from faux Nike socks to homemade flan,  and all the action was leading towards the market grounds in the edge of town.

It was entirely exciting.  The strolling of pedestrians was frequently punctuated by groups of cows being pushed down the same street we were walking,  and it seemed like everyone,  herders and pedestrians alike,  had a stick to keep the cows in line.  I began to think I was perhaps unprepared for the day’s festivities.

As I drew closer to the market,  though,  the scene changed.  It was simultaneously deadly still and operatically loud.  Most of the crowd of people walking were hushed,  the only sounds the stirring,  loud music from the market and the yelling of a British man who just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t drive past the emergency vehicles.

Those vehicles,  of course,  explained the hush: a team of paramedics was working on a big man lying in the street,  desperately trying to start his heart again.  I only saw him for a moment,  but it was enough: his shirt ripped open and him lying unnaturally still as the paramedics worked to save him.

Pushed by instinct that he deserved more privacy than the crowd or I were giving him,  I pushed through the the milling people and wandered to and through the market.  The life of young calves,  kids,  and ponies couldn’t have offered a clearer contrast to the scene in the street,  but I couldn’t get that brief flash out of my mind.

Twenty minutes later,  I walked back,  headed to my car,  to just escape somewhere.  The man was still lying in the street,  and the paramedics were finally putting a screen up to offer privacy, now that he had no need of it.

It feels so petty and self-absorbed, but the rest of my day was shadowed by that moment.  It’s hard to appreciate a touristy medieval town, enjoy a museum,  or hazard the absurdity of Spanish clothing sizes when you can’t stop thinking about a fellow human being dying alone,  on a street.

A person could make the argument that I’ve insulated myself pretty well from death.  After some traumatic losses as a kid,  I’ve,  through accident or effort,  been awfully lucky to have only lost a few people who matter to me.  That’s a cold comfort,  though,  when I think about the fragility of all of our lives and just how much more of you than would guess it matter so much to me.

It would be convenient,  but not true,  to argue that my morning taught me a lesson about living life to the fullest, but life is rarely that easily instructive.   I hope,  at least,  that it was a reminder to let those who matter to me know a little more often and a little less self-consciously.  It’s hard to understand how we rarely find ourselves embarrassed about being angry at people,  and how frequently we’re embarrassed to let them know we love them. At least I am.

The day,  as most days do,  turned eventually,  and my thoughts became less focused on mortality and the ultimate banality of death.  A trip up a gravel and dirt road to a spot I’m sure my rental car company would not have approved of,  an e-mail from an old friend,  and the most absurdly small town tortilla cooking contest and concert played small parts in that change,  as did the thought about many of you,  distant though you may be.

To a full today and tomorrow for all of you.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate. In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.