Thailand, The Heroic Life, Travel

The Tragic Joy of the Heroic Life

“Love it the first time.”

These words have been my credo since Day Zero.

They came to me literally on the eve of my departure, as I biked into Minneapolis for the last time and saw her skyline above me. Spotlights in the mist, rainclouds parting, 3 million lives unfolding. I caught my breath and wondered if I’ll see my city again, or if I’ll die on my walk.

I breathed out loud: “Love it the first time, Drew.”

I committed the scene to my lifelong memory, put my head down, and resumed biking.

Tragic Joy

This credo has come to serve me many times on my quest. Almost daily I recite these words, beholding with joy some happy scene or experience.

In part, this is because the Heroic Life involves travel. I can never see everything. I pick my priorities and live with my choices. Instead of making phantom plans, I cherish the memories I have. And I look forward.

I believe this view is required for the Heroic Life. You must accept that today may be your last experience. And you must love that truth. You must love that there may be nothing more: the moment is enough. It is sacred in itself.

This is the tragic love of the Heroic Life.

In moments of happiness, my heart soars like I’ve leapt from a cliff. Moments are fleeting and mortal, as we are.

Soul Mates

In the story of the Temple on Doi Suthep I mentioned someone important. I didn’t see her, but a few paces away was Saarein. We wouldn’t meet till later. Heaven brought us together.

When I got home I rested and showered. The temptation was strong to go to bed, but I wanted to keep my ankle moving. I went out for Indian food.

At the next table, a Dutch woman in a breathtaking shawl sat down, alone. (A woman on her own is an unusual sight in Thailand.)

I pushed weariness from my mind. Summoning my training I asked if she spoke English. She did. Would she like company?

We talked for hours.

“I follow the gods of nature,” I said.

“Me too,” she said.

The next day she taught me to ride a motorbike. First I clung behind her as she tried to kill us. Then she let me try to kill us. She was a patient teacher, one hand gently on my shoulder to show she wasn’t afraid.

We walked through caves with the Buddha. We offered incense, we prayed, we talked. As the sun set, I drove us through country roads. The sun hit the rice fields and the old walls and rooves. Everything glowed gold; we waved and the people smiled.

It was picturesque, but we didn’t capture it. “I’ll remember without a camera,” she said.

“Me too,” I said.

I knew this was our only day. Tomorrow she was leaving for Laos, then onward on her travels across Asia. In two weeks I’d go on to Mexico. From the moment we met we had 30 hours together. The clock ticked down.

We didn’t speak of this. We understood. She taught me many Dutch words, but never good-bye. Late that night I watched her zoom away on her motorbike, my fellow adventurer and my soul mate. I went to bed, and I slept easily.


It may seem that the Heroic Life brings this upon itself. If you travel to challenge yourself, you will part with many soul friends and lovers along the way.

In truth, every love is fleeting. Every joy is mortal. Most people choose to forget that. They try to build eternal happiness. When things change their hearts break. The Heroic Life allows no illusion. It confronts you from the start.

          The tragic joy of the Heroic Life:
                    Love it the first time.
                              Heaven may be a dream…
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28 thoughts on “The Tragic Joy of the Heroic Life

  1. In reading this, I found myself catching my breath a couple of times. I finished reading it thinking I wanted more. Rereading it again more slowly, letting it sink in. Thinking “I want that”. Beautiful. Thank you Drew.

  2. I forgot to mention that I took a similar bike ride, in Kansas City to a favorite spot where there’s a great view of downtown, just before we left last May for our move to Atlanta preceded by two months in the Dominican Republic. I was saying goodbye. Not sure when I’d return. Knowing if/when I did that things would be so different. Very nostalgic feeling.

  3. Best thing I’ve read from you in a long while.

    Great story — left me wanting more as well. But “love is fleeting” — won’t give in to that. Never.

    People change — true. It’s how you change with them that makes or breaks it. At least that’s how I see it — one traveler on the way.

    May you find more things you love.

    • I really appreciate this comment Urban because you have one of the strongest, and most joyful marriages I’ve seen. I can see where you’re coming from. In my view, we are mortal beings. There is something to be said for picking the right partner, being gentle & strong for them, changing with them, and making it work long-term. But we all lose our loves eventually, and I think there is value to treasuring the moment rather than the plan.

  4. As I started to recover from the death of my husband of 22 years a few years ago, I realized I was faced with choices about the life I wanted to live. I came to this conclusion, and it has become one of my mottos:

    Caring is dangerous. Live dangerously.

  5. really cool article Drew! Having a heroic life means living in the moment and accepting it. It’s tough for me now, because I’m preparing to go live and teach in Korea next month so I’m constantly getting ready for the trip. But I’m trying to live in the moment and spend quality time with my family too. It’s a hard juggling act.

    • You will adjust to it Bangor. If this is your first time leaving to live in another country I know the feeling you have. I felt this way before I launched. At first it seems like living for the moment will be very hard and challenging. In fact it is very freeing and satisfying. In many ways it is the mental equivalent of minimalism – you are detaching yourself from all kinds of clutter, except here, the clutter is expectations in your head that you can’t really control anyway. You’ll grow into it and like be very glad :)

  6. Drew, what an amazing journey you’ve had so far! Thank you for today’s post. It confirmed for me that the Spiritual Vibration of the World is rising, higher every day!

    “Love it the first time” is the PERFECT Mantra for today’s living! We all should pause, somewhere within our busy lives to just appreciate the NOW!

    Thank you for the very poignant reminder!

  7. Beautiful post Drew – perfectly timed too. As I’m sitting here missing someone I love, you reminded of the perfect moments I’ve already been blessed with, which will be with me always. It’s so tempting to seek for “more”, so thanks for reminding me I’m already rich with the love I’ve experienced, regardless of how fleeting it may seem.

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  10. Love is fleeting? Perhaps for some, but it never dies with me. Love it the first time? Hell’s bells, I love it ALL the time. When I fall in love with a city or a person, that love is always there, you carry it with you where ever you go. I agree with Urban, I will never give in to fleeting love. Even when love leaves, it sticks to me, or perhaps my heart is a wild and stubborn thing, like a horse unbroken.

    At first I was afraid to read this account from your trip because I thought it would make me cry. I don’t like sad love stories. But you know what? It didn’t touch me with despair at all. I am proud to say that I felt the passion in your words and can walk away with a smile. Thank you, Drew, for sharing something so personal.

    • You’re welcome Val :)

      On love, let me put it this way. The life expectancy in the US is 76 years for a man or 81 years for a woman. None of the loves you have are going to last longer than your own lifespan. Recognizing their mortality seems, to me, like a better strategy than romantically declaring you’ll have that love forever.

      • Of course! *laughs* That’s only practical of you to say that, and real, but I think you know what I meant.

        Even after someone passes away, I can still feel their presence, and still experience love. It really does not go away. You have to experience it to know it.

        • I do know what you meant, but as a rule I don’t count on afterlives. I try to treasure what we have. The spirits we sense – which may be the wiring of our brain – give us no promise of anything more.

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