Long before she swam with bull sharks in Fiji or wept with Buddhist nuns in Cambodia or heard the voice of God while sick on a bathroom floor in Nicaragua, Tracey Carisch sat down one Chattanooga night with a simple glass of pinot noir.
That's when everything began to change.
It was a girls' night out, 2013. As Carisch and friends settled in for drinks at a North Shore wine bar, somebody turned to her and casually asked: So, Tracey, what did you do this week?
She ... didn't ... know.
Sure, she'd done things that week, lots of things. Carisch was neck-deep in the life of a working mother. She had 600 emails in her inbox. Two dozen errands to run.
Yet what had she actually ... done?
"My life has become a repetitive, uninspiring to-do list," she realized on that pinot noir evening. "Was nothing in this entire week worth remembering? Am I just going through the motions?"
Anybody else know that feeling?
That wine-bar revelation soon would unfold into one of the most epic moments in the history of Chattanooga middle-class families:
IF YOU GO
Tracey Carisch will speak at Starline Books on Saturday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m.
Within the year, Carisch and her husband, Brian, and their three daughters sold their North Shore home and most of its belongings and started a journey around the world, traveling to dozens of countries while homeschooling and performing community service along the way.
The journey would take Carisch to places most of us will never go.
But remember: her story isn't about the faraway and exotic.
It's about what's right here, each day.
Whether we are bakers or candlestick makers, how can we live more intentional lives?
"A horse was galloping at great speed, and it appeared the rider was going somewhere very important," Carisch likes to say. "As the hooves thundered through a village, a young boy watched the man ride by."
"The boy shouted: Where are you going?
"The rider yelled back: I don't know! Ask the horse!"
This wonderful horse story opens Carisch's new aptly named book, "Excess Baggage: One Family's Around-the-World Search for Balance." It is part Rick Steves, part Elizabeth Gilbert, part Bill Bryson.
"Twelve months of global travel had shown us a world very different from the one we'd learned about on the twenty four hour news networks, where fear and controversy apparently sell more advertising than heartwarming stories about random acts of kindness," she writes.
On July 20, Carisch returns to Chattanooga for a speaking event at Starline Books, the independent bookstore on Market Street. (They now live in Colorado.)
"The event will feature insightful travel stories and an open discussion on how we find balance and connection in the midst of busy schedules," she said. "I've had so many meaningful discussions on finding purpose, handling conflicts, and setting life's priorities with the people who attend. I'm so excited to finally get to do one back here in Chattanooga, where this all started for us."
I love her story. The daringness of it. The courage. The honesty. We may never travel the world, but can we travel to lives that are more intentional?
Can we practice more mini-revolutions of mindfulness within the daily spin cycle of mortgage, bedtimes, homework and emails?
How can we learn to say no?
How can we learn to say yes?
"We were just ... so damn busy," Carisch writes of her pre-travel life. "Always going, going, going, running from one thing to the next."
Traveling to 24 countries — Croatia to Ethiopia to New Zealand — and helping with 56 community services projects shifted that damn-busy-ness to something more freeing.
Thailand. (Rode elephants. Her husband accidentally ate a hash pizza.)
Bolivia. (Worked with homeless drug addicts.)
Peru. (It is a small world after all: on the shores of Lake Titicaca, they stumbled into a charming couple ... from North Georgia.)
There is a particularly moving story about a wordless encounter over incense with a Buddhist nun. Just the touch of her kind hand brought Carisch to deep tears.
Another haunting story describes the days they spent in Fiji with Reuben and Diana Summerlin; it would be the last time they saw the unforgettable Reuben, who was later killed by a truck driver while riding his bike.
In Nicaragua, dysentery hit. Writhing on the bathroom floor, Carisch somehow heard a divine voice: Welcome it all with open arms. The good. The bad. The everything.
"I rediscovered something I'd lost when I was a stressed out working mother," she writes. "It was a truth my higher self had always known, but the frazzled mom had forgotten over the years."
Maybe we can find that, too.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.