In 2005, I took a trip that changed my outlook on everything for the rest of my life.
It was set up an as “innocent” semester abroad called Semester At Sea. Although the ship carrying us almost sank (which is another story for another time), we did make it to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, and Venezuela.
I understand that being privileged enough to be able to afford this trip is a lucky insanity all on its own. The person I completed the trip as was not the person that set sail at the beginning of the semester, and I struggled when I got home. The most difficult part of the trip? Coming back to the USA.
You see, I was haunted by my memories. The depression and hustle in China. The lovely old lady I paid $10 USD for fruit on the beach in Vietnam who cried because it was worth more than a month’s work. The children in school with tuberculosis, and the class and culture clashes in India. The vastness and wild spaces in Kenya. The indigenous people of Tanzania who send their young boys off to kill a lion in order to be crowned a man. The residual feelings post apartheid in South Africa. The insane emotion of a soccer game and lusty culture in Brazil. The mountains and waterfalls in Venezuela.
I saw people starving, disabled, uneducated. I met people absolutely desperate to know more about my life in America, and found myself feeling guilty for all I had, downplaying what a normal day in my normal life entails.
I came back from that trip with a form of PTSD, so angry at how materialistic and out of touch we are just because we can be. I was disgusted and borderline crippled for months. I had been with people that owned nothing but the clothing on their backs, and they were HAPPY! In one case, they made skits and entertainment for us, and hosted us with what little food they had!
It’s been 15 years since my Semester at Sea and I still have these feelings laced through my everyday life. I almost cry when I go to the grocery store and I am able to purchase two weeks worth of food, fruits, veggies, meats, treats—whatever I want, all at the same time—when I know there are people out there well past their need for a single meal.
I have flashbacks of people starving on the streets in India. I always eat everything on my plate (or take it home), no matter what I am offered, because I am grateful and I don’t take it for granted.
I don’t buy clothing, shoes, jewelry or other items many find pleasure in unless I need them because I have worn through my other items. I just don’t find joy in “things.” I feel smothered by our culture, kids being bullied, old folks not being revered, those of working age not being kind to one another.
It took me a long time after I returned home to gravitate toward horses again. It felt selfish to indulge in what seemed like an elite activity for a career when I had seen so much and knew what lie beyond our borders. And inside our borders. I felt like riding horses wasn’t going to contribute to society, or make an impact.
My now husband helped me understand that bringing joy to people and animals is a mission worthy of my time. Being good to people, helping people gain confidence, demonstrate commitment, live in a healthy, honest coexistence with their horses is a wonderful path. The business name I chose, Passport Sport Horses, has an obvious reference to my journey. I hope folks that join the Passport family find their own personal journey within their equine endeavors, supported endlessly by myself and other team members.
And I love my life, but long to make a bigger impact. I have more in common with the people I met from all races, religions, economic backgrounds than I do not.
I have two more horses to sell that will surely light the life of their new owners. I have a lot of tack to sell and a lot of items to donate over the next month or two. I want to find a little simplicity, pass on my good fortune, and look forward to new ways to be philanthropic in the part of the world where I live.
I am certain I will get both of my dogs certified to visit hospitals and nursing homes. I will make time to help local platforms in my area that are striving to improve the lives and opportunities of others. I am excited to feel revitalized in the midst of the chaos that is my life. Clarity has been creeping in, and I think it is time that I invite it all the way in to my life to stay.
If you got this far in the read, how do you plan to impact someone in a positive way tomorrow?
This post originally appeared on Sarah MacHarg’s Facebook page and is reprinted here with permission.
Sarah MacHarg is a professional horse trainer in Lexington, KY who specializes in re-homing off-the-track Thoroughbreds. She owns and operates Passport Sport Horses.