I hear it often -- or its kissing cousin: "Have a safe trip."
On my trips north this year to deal with family matters, they were the most common comments on Mexpatriate and Facebook, and they startled me a bit.
I was tempted to answer similar to Gandalf's response to Bilbo Baggins's when he first meets Gandalf and Bilbo says: "Good morning."
“What do you mean?” [Gandalf] said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
Unlike Gandalf, I know exactly what the "Have a safe trip" wishers mean. They are being nice. If they give any thought to the phrase, they hope my trip will be uneventful and that I will not end up as a bloody heap along some rural road.
No one should get themselves wrapped around an axle over a heart-felt concern. Most of the wishers are simply trying to defend the ever-crumbling infrastructure of social niceties.
I usually just smile in response to the comment or I will say "I hope I have an adventurous trip." Anything more would simply be churlish.
In the scheme of life, it is a personable quibble that ranks no higher than wearing brown shoes with blue trousers. It lives next door to that social tic "How are you?"
But our choice of words is a reflection of our souls. It is not always true, but most often it is easy to determine what a person feels about the world with their choice of words.
It seems as if this tendency to greet departures with "Have a safe trip" is a new phenomenon. In the recent past, the usual response when I told someone I was off to places exotic was: "Have a fun trip." And that was a perfect reflection of why I was vagabonding around the world. For fun. For adventure. But never for safety.
People who say "Have a fun trip" see the world like that. A fun place where adventures are awaiting around every corner. Where there are new people to meet and new foods to be eaten. Where conflicts will inevitably arise with new lessons to learn.
Even though it is a nice thing to say, "Have a safe trip" reflects a different view of what the world offers. A world that is dangerous and may hurt you if you are not careful. It stems from the belief that going away from home is filled with worries when you could stay nearby in a cocoon of safety.*
I tend to be Hobbesian in my worldview. Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. I take that as a given because I can do nothing to change it. I then play out my life against that background scenery -- searching out all of the good that this bounteous creation offers us during our brief sojourn here. Adventures are to be anticipated and savored.
When Mom sent Darrel and me off to school, she never once said: "Have a safe day." What she did say was "Have fun. Learn something new."
I am hardly a Pollyanna. See my Hobbes confession above. I am what I call a hard-headed realist with optimistic overtones. I know that travel has markedly changed its perceived danger in these viral days. That is simply a reality we are learning to live with.
Even though I have already suffered a bout of the virus, I do not travel these days unless the necessity outweighs the risk. My family's needs were greater than the risk on my trips north this year. I cancelled my planned trips to Madrid, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan because the need disappeared under the weight of the risk. I guess I was being safe before I even left, which does create an apparent illogical loop in this essay.
I wonder how we would start viewing the world if we adopted my mother's approach. When one of us is heading off somewhere, why not imagine the traveler is heading off to school. "Have fun. Learn something new. Don't lose your jacket."
And, if you have time to slip an encouraging note into my Roy Rogers lunch box, you will make mothers throughout the world smile.
If only a little. In these days, that will be miracle enough.
* -- Yes, I know these reductionist arguments are subject to an inherently weak intellectual foundation. Very few things in life are so simple that they can be reduced to two tiny categories -- even in this case. There is a lot of sliding scale between those two poles.