By Phil Sheldon, HE Travel CEO
Dear HE Travel Friends,
This has been a profound week of contemplation about life and death on both the global and personal levels.
Here in the Florida Keys, HE Travel organized a team of riders for the Smart Ride – two days of cycling from Miami to Key West (165 miles). All riders raise money that goes to South Florida organizations that support people living with HIV and AIDS. I am grateful to our team members – four from out of state – who contributed toward the almost $1M raised for this important cause.
The ceremony at the end of the Ride was at the White Street Pier here in Key West, just past our AIDS Memorial, which has over 1000 names engraved in granite. One of those names is of my former partner Jim Rusnak. Jim and I were only a couple for two years in the early 1980s, but we remained family, and in 1996 I moved to Key West to be part of Jim’s support team during the last year of his life.
After the ceremony I walked back to the Memorial with my HE Travel colleagues and our riders, along with the 8-year-old son of two of our staff members. When we paused to read Jim’s name, the 8-year-old asked “did he die?” I said yes, and he understood why the ceremony he had witnessed was such a profound experience for many of us adults – especially the slow movement of a riderless bike across the pier during the ceremony.
Juxtaposed with this very personal experience, I joined all of you to share the horror at what happened in Paris last weekend. As I pause to remember those affected by this event, I would like to offer a prayer of hope and of thanks across the ocean to our friends in France.
First and foremost I want to thank those French residents that I can name – especially our hard-working French bike guides Charly Gauthier and Pierre Brehier, who have demonstrated French hospitality to our travelers since 1999. They were both traveling outside France when Paris was attacked and are safe.
In addition, I want to express my gratitude for the small kindnesses of the literally thousands of French women and men who have offered their hands to me and our HE Travel visitors to France over the past 40 years. Whether they drove my train, made sure my bike was safe, checked me into a hotel with a smile, or served me a baguette, I arrived as a stranger, and was welcomed as an honored guest.
Today I am proud to offer one small light to our friends in the City of Lights and declare: “Je suis un Parisien!”