How To Be Stupid
WHEN TRAVEL INSURANCE COMES WITH AGE
SOME ADVENTURES are taken on with incremental levels of stupid. Such as Baguio’s Treetop Adventure—a zipline situated 100 feet above premium pine and rolling mountain. You’re not by any stretch the zipline-type, your idea of adventure being to recite lines of poetry on a bridge—but you’re adventurous under pressure; and your married friends, Mike and Joee, look at ease at high altitudes—already Mike is strapped onto his harness, ready to go. So after he takes his turn, eyes dilated, body shocked senseless, you decide, OK, if he can do it, so can I. Your inner voice tells you all will be well as long as you don’t look down. But the view below is stunning beyond measure, and you just have to look. There’s miles and miles of virgin pine below, and the sun above is haloed in cloudy light. And although the zipline promises to be one long blink, you get through it with your eyes wide open, and a wild rash of goosebumps on your skin.
In The Society of Timid Souls, author Polly Morland ventures into the different kinds of courage, or the different kinds of stupid, however way you want to look at it. Among other brave souls, she interviews surfers, ex-cons, families of decorated soldiers and firefighters. All of whom know something about courage. It is not the absence of fear, not by any stretch; it’s how one overcomes fear for causes bigger than oneself—a giant wave or a burning building. You’re not a hero, but you know about fear. And about how not missing a spectacular view—and the collection of spectacular views that amount to living a full life—means being brave.
A year later, courage calls like an ex, butt-dialing your number at three in the morning. It feels random but inevitable. You’re two hours away from Osaka with your husband and small son. You’ve promised your son snow—it’s December, and you want to give him a white Christmas, just like the ones you’ve never known. The resort isn’t luxury—by which you mean it comes with guerilla joys, not safety measures. The bus takes you to a small hill with gray slush. Slim pickings. Your son looks at you, disappointed. “Is this it?” his expression asks. No, it isn’t. Between slush and snow in the hills beyond is a crickety ski lift. No safety belts on the old contraption. You’re wearing your slick down jacket from Uniqlo, and he’s wearing his. They keep you warm, sure, but they’re also slippery, especially when they rub against someone else’s poufy jacket.
Your husband has already jumped into the lift before yours. Miss this chance, and you’ll go half a day without seeing him. Your parental instincts kick in—there aren’t any seatbelts, instinct says; I don’t know anyone in this town, instinct says again. You look at your son: I’m responsible for this small life; but your husband is already cheering into the wind, and your lift has arrived. And even before you have a choice in the matter, the lift operator benevolently nudges your ass into what looks like an old school chair. And sweet Jesus, holy Mary, your fleece feels slippery against your son’s jacket and you hold onto him for dear life.
It happens that you reach the snowy hills safely and without a hitch. The afternoon is a flurry of sleigh rides, cider breaks, snowmen. You watch affectionately as your son builds his first snowman with packed ice, bottle caps and sticks. You’ve made in the gray mush of his young brain the highest parental achievement: a childhood memory. On the way back to the bus, you give a confident salute to the lift operator. Courage unlocked, you tell yourself, patting your poufy Uniqlo jacket on the back.
Screw courage for being so much easier in youth, you think to yourself, on the bus ride back to Osaka. Once, you climbed a waterfall in Bicol wearing two-inch heels. You used to unbuckle your safety belt in airplanes during terrible turbulence. You once rode an outrigger boat on Black Saturday when the motor rasped to momentary death in the middle of the ocean. You didn’t mind—the stars had never shone as bright, and had never looked as near. You’re getting older, you tell yourself, but you don’t want to forego any of the pleasures made for the brave, even if they include ziplines and tricky ski lifts.
This year, you’re riding to Rome on tickets you bought back in February. “Watch out for the gypsies,” your family and friends tell you over Sunday brunch: now’s not a good time for Europe, be vigilant, check the weather. Okay doomsayers, you tell them, that’s enough.
You pretend to duck into the bathroom but what you really do is pull out your smartphone and Google: best travel insurance. After a few duds, you find the one you’re looking for: a small premium, high coverage, and—wait for it—a concierge. One you can call from anywhere in the world, and who can refer you to specialists anywhere you sprain an ankle or choke on pufferfish. One that can, in theory, score you some Broadway tickets.
Then you rub your hands in glee: it’s time to get stupid.