I’d just stumbled from a mountain town in central Bosnia at the height of the war. Cornered by a military unit during a local offensive I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to get out-of-town. After marching the better part of a dozen miles in full pack and putting up with a quick ride by a couple Italian smugglers, the scorching sun taking a toll, I was hoping to scrounge a bit of food, refill my water and perhaps get a bit of news on the larger offensive I was heading into farther down the road. Outside of town the road climbed higher through some of the highest passes in the Bosnian range. Headed into the thick of battle alone, and out of water I was at my lowest point.
I paused in the shade of an outcropping to gather myself and figure a plan, but the more I thought the more hopeless it all seemed. Just then a little yellow Audi pulled to a stop in front of me.
“Idesh?” where are you headed, a little white-haired fellow asked.
I stared dumbly at him for a moment. But for the country and the language he was the spitting image of my father back home in America. A friendly smile painted a long working calls face.
“Sarajevo,” I replied.
“I’m not going that far,” he laughed, “but I’ll get you a little closer.”
He rearranged several apple crates in back to accommodate my pack. As I scooted in beside him I tried to tell him in his language just how much he looked like my father, but stumbled over the words. It was easier to ask why he stopped.
“How could I not,” he said matter-of-fact. “You looked like you needed a hand.”
“I sure appreciate it.”
His badly aged Audi was struggling against the steep mountain passes, almost to the point of quitting. The engine whined and jerked as he expertly worked the well-worn gears. Each time the engine seemed ready to quit he would gently stroke the dash and say, “Come on baby.” Then, as if the old car could not bear to disappoint him, it would roar back to life.
“How long have you two been married?” I joked.
Sharing a couple of apples with me, he filled me in on the fighting up ahead as best he could. I was with no small amount of sadness that I watched him leave.
In Tuscany the owner of Hotel L’Fiorino all but adopted us. ana had become friends almost instantly with his daughter, Elena, who worked the desk most days.With kindly features and a hospitable nature he took care of us as if we were family. The night our flight home we said our goodbyes, as we were leaving before dawn the next morning. As we came down that morning, struggling from the elevator with our bags, Ana lamenting that she would get coffee until we were at the airport, we were greeted with an unexpectedly ebullient “Buongiorno!”
Elena’s father had stayed up all night so that Ana would have a cup of coffee before leaving.
If there is one thing I’ve learned travelling around the world, and especially in war, is that there is a river of goodness that runs through the world. There are souls who seem to appear from thin air, along mountain roads or wherever you might be in trouble or forlorn. They are the good salt-of-the-earth folks, the men who do the back-breaking tasks and then return to home and neighbors to reaffirm their belief that goodness is the best and truest mark a man can leave on the earth. they are the standard bearers for morality and ethics in the world, not for what they judge but the example they set and the neighborliness they abound in. They are the first to an accident, first to soothe a skinned knee, and the first with a beer across the fence. It is an example I have sought to continue as best I can. And for that, to fathers everywhere I can happy fathers day.