Try to imagine a life that progresses along a path not completely of your choosing. You have the option to follow of course, or not. Richard Irwin’s path starts out in a small town in Montana and ends in small town in Connecticut after having put six years in the naval submarine service then in the next 40 years traveled and worked places in the four corners of America and its center and around the world through places like Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Iraq, Russia, Turkey, Denmark. This path takes a person who sees no limitation in front of him on an educational and learning venture that rewards him at every turn. After working in America until his mid forty’s, he heads out to his first offshore job in Saudi Arabia; never having been in a foreign country let alone one that has a completely different culture. What follows from there along the path could only be called a fascinating trip right up to the end. The last trip down the path involved a decision in 2003 to go to Iraq to participate in a project involved with the elimination of massive amounts of bombs and other military destructive material collected by the U.S. Army from many areas of the desert to be eliminated primarily by blowing it up. The request to go had come by email from a person operating on a project in New Orleans who knew Richard.
The request involved acceptance, of course, but also requested a copy of Richard’s upto-date resume. His resume was currently stored on his computer so all he needed to do was to send it on. Trouble was that Richard was in his sixty-third year of age and was comfortable in his position on a chemical weapon elimination project in Indiana. Retirement seemed imminent and desirable. But, there was an interesting element in what the Iraqi project contained. Iraq was not supposed to have weapons of mass destruction according to the news reports. He was able to take some interesting pictures showing missiles and bombs all over the desert. And, also, not having been to Iraq kept Richard’s finger hanging above the Enter Key on his computer as he was contemplating his temptation of one more trip along the path. The attitude of “why not!” came to the fore and the key was pushed, bringing a fantastic end to the path. There was a point, actually several points, along the path that Richard paused periodically to reflect on the question, “Why am I here?” Apparently, Richard was not yet ready to answer, so he put the answer off until a later time.
When he arrived in Moscow, Russia though for projects designed to facilitate Russia’s realignment following the demise of the Soviet System of government he took the time to do the reflection. That was in 1995. The Russian people were struggling to carry out a new life that no longer relied on a government controlling every aspect of human conduct. His job and company required him to work with the local people, building apartments for retired military in various areas of Russia such as Sochi, Kaliningrad, Stari Oscol, and Novgorod. As the work progressed the people showed an appreciation of the Americans being willing to assist in their transition to a different way of life. As he walked the street to work and back each day, though, Richard observed the difficulties the people were having in making decisions that were previously not theirs to make. At the same time, he saw a lot of the young men dressed in American style jeans. Many of the older people were standing next to the buildings along the sidewalk offering personal items for sale to passersby. There was a sadness but a determined look in everyone. It was a tough walk sometimes. Seeing a woman wearing a nice fur coat and offering a piece of fine jewelry for sale told a major story in how they were managing the transition. For Richard, it caused a reflection on his being able to walk the sidewalks without worry after arriving from his last job that was in Saudi Arabia, helping to build a small town on the Red Sea. One day, as he sat in front of his laptop in his apartment attempting to gain a perspective on his situation, Richard began to ask the question, but he had no one to pose it to. He was alone in an apartment built back in Soviet days for friends of the Communist Party. The apartment was very comfortable.
He started to write a letter on the subject but had to pause because, again, to whom would he send it? He was walking his work path by himself. No one with whom to compare notes. Finally, he picked the only person capable of knowing where the path had been leading him. The letter exchange that followed resulted in a book entitled, Dear George that you will need to read to find out who George is. When Richard reached the end of his work life’s path that included work and general travel throughout the world, he retired to a small town in Connecticut. He and his wife had a house built on a short cul-de-sac surrounded by trees. And, so began his retirement. However, while the house was being furnished with what came from the previous house, deciding where to store the boxes of items collected along the path became a task interrupted by the curiosity of what was inside each. As was the habit of most travelers, things are collected along the way that become items of a memory of the trips made. Also, movement on the various modes of travel often required some kind of identification document. These items found their way into the boxes, too.
As these items are looked at over time they would add to the memories of each section of the path taken. As Richard was thinking later about what had been stored in the boxes it became an issue that he felt could not just remain in the boxes. Their story had to be told, if for no other reason than to show to himself what a great path he had taken. At the same time, there are other people out in the public square that maybe could identify with such a path taken or use the story as an incentive to walk a similar path of their own. Hence, Richard decided to write about some of the path parts he took that were especially interesting and revealing with the intent of showing others what could be learned if one only took their own but similar path. For example, there was one country that required visa renewal periodically which requires a person to leave the country and return at a later date. It became an opportunity to visit other world areas of interest. Richard and his wife were able to walk the Great Wall of China as a result. He has a picture on his wall at home that they purchased while on the island of Bali.
The biggest reward came when he interacted with the local people in the places he worked and visited along the path. It was an amazing discovery to learn that regardless of which country and which locality within the country all persons wanted the same things, i.e. family, happiness, success, safety and so on in spite of the imposition of government rules. Each reader will get an exposure of these realities when his book, Our Life in Boxes is read. As Richard was putting his thoughts to print he began to see a picture forming that was putting an additional perspective on his travels down the path. Simply put, what he experienced caused an evaluation of what elements come into play that affects how a person sees what’s in front of him or her allowing a conclusion to be drawn. Hence, he finished his book with an epilogue that essentially shows what human characteristics there are in a human to see what is in front of you and how they affect you. And, then there are other elements in the “out there” that can impact what humans need or want. Both books provide a reflection of Richard’s view of his personal world and how he sees the world in general. The reader of each book hopefully will look inside himself or herself and reflect on where their path leads. In today’s world personal reflection needs to be enhanced by what’s in the arena of the public square.