Lifestyle 101: Quest for the Holy Grail

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Quest for the grail. Grail usually suggests the Holy Grail (or literally the cup of Christ). The medieval knights of Arthurian legend quested for the grail in the Holy Land Crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries. Since that time the word grail has become synonymous with the search for something rare and elusive (and expensive in modern times).

A grail is not easily attained—and, as such, often represents an ideal, a dream, rather than an obtainable reality. But to search for a grail implies a journey (a quest) and therein lies the magic. To live a life without dreams is to live a life without magic. And how sad is that? Without dreams Man would never have walked on the moon.

It’s good to dream. It’s good to strive for something beyond your reach. It’s good to believe in magic (within reason of course). Today a grail often represents a material object (something to be possessed) and not an ideal. But I think a grail more accurately represents the quest (or the ideal) leading to the object itself. Does that make any sense at all? In other words it’s the journey and the learning along the way and not the object itself—the object is merely the material manifestation of the dream.

1968 Jaguar XK-E 2+2 Coup

I’ve had many grails (or dreams) in my life. Some I’ve attained, others not so much. Oh but the journey—the journey has been exquisite. Without waxing too poetic I often feel like that medieval knight of Arthurian lore—searching for the unattainable. In reality I’m probably more like Cervantes’ errant knight Don Quixote tilting at windmills but to dream the impossible dream (from the Man of La Mancha) is not a bad thing at all. There have been plenty of naysayers along the way to tell me what I couldn’t do or what I couldn’t be. Far too many—and some too close to home.

I’ve always had goals (or what I like to think of as dreams) even as a kid. It’s those dreams that have launched me on my journey of discovery and still serve me well today. Lewis & Clark shared Thomas Jefferson’s dream of opening up the west in 1804 and called their expedition into the unknown the Journey of the Corps of Discovery. I’ve read copies of their original journals, and their biographies, and they have been longtime heroes of mine (along with many other adventurers). Their grail was nothing less than hiking overland from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and they did it.

So, what’s with the Jaguar XK-E pictured above? In the mid-1960s it was my dream car (I would say that it still is). This was the car: a light mint green with tan leather interior and twelve roaring cylinders of raw power—it is still a dream of sorts. I would have to be Jay Leno rich and a bit frivolous to pursue it but it’s still bouncing around in my seventy year old noggin. She’s a beaut isn’t she. When I left for Vietnam in January 1967, as a nineteen year old Marine Corps Sergeant, I had been engaged to my high school sweetheart for almost a year. For over a year I sent all of my pay to her so she could bank it for our marriage.

Father & Son (Steve & Shawn) at Shawn’s Retirement Party from the San Diego Country Sheriff’s Department (24 years of dedicated service)

I returned home, in February 1968, with enough money in the bank to buy a brand-new Jaguar XK-E 2+2 Coup for cash (yep—my dream car). But we married two weeks after my return (which had been the plan all along) and we bought a new 1968 VW Beetle (30% down and two years of payments) instead. The dream (the XK-E) had been nice but the reality was better. Our Beetle served us well and two years later my son was born (he is now forty-seven years old—holy crap). Very few guys returned home from Vietnam with that kind of cash in the bank and if they did they immediately bought a hot car.

I missed out on my grail car but I gained a son who is the best thing to have ever happened in my life. While pursuing one dream you often find yourself blessed with others (many unexpected). It truly is: the journey, the quest, the exploration and the adventure that is magical. The grail is the quest. The grail is the dream. The grail is the reason. The grail is the magic. Whether it’s the Holy Grail itself, Ponce de León’s The Fountain of Youth, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or something more mundane—it’s important to have a dream. I will repeat that: it’s important to have a dream.

I was told that without a college degree (preferably a Masters or PhD) I could never be a Vice President in a large corporation. I could never be financially successful or have nice things. I was told I could never be a professional photographer, published writer or full-time world traveller. I was told all of those things by strangers, co-workers, acquaintances, friends and even family. I’ve been told those things for years. Funny—I’ve done all of those things. Now I’m told I might be too old to continue my trek around the world with my rucksack. Well, fuck’um—World Adventure Part II starts soon.

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