This is not a tale as old as time, but a story on recent trend that seems to have captured the hearts of young and carefree millennials.
Travel the world and truly live. Experience. Dream. Find the meaning of life. Then share it on social media with poor schmucks who work for a living.
Many a social media influencer has quit their job and decided to rely on the kindness of strangers to help them achieve their dreams of seeing the world – but it doesn’t always go as planned.
The Millennial American Dream
We’re really not sure how this shift has taken place in recent years, but as is the source of blame for many of the world’s ills, we have only to look at social media.
Millennials all over the world are making their mark on these platforms, mostly Instagram. They’re young and beautiful, and they know way more than the rest of us who have decades of life experience.
We agree that life is beautiful. It’s important to take time to explore and dream.
But in order for most of us to do this, we have to work and save money and make sacrifices so that someday we’ll be able to stop and take it all in.
There are those who don’t believe in this concept. They’re often millennials – well-educated with plenty of opportunities for success – but they’d rather not follow social norms.
Work is a waste of life, they think. We’re all a bunch of idiots for believing this is the only way to do things. If we trust in each other, we can all live together in a kumbaya-singing commune-like world where everyone helps each other.
This was the idealistic belief of one young man who was full of life. And though his girlfriend was a bit more practical and skeptical, she too decided to grab life by the horns.
They truly believed that evil was a false concept. That goodness and kindness of spirit would be reciprocated.
They had a lot to learn.
And they would learn – in a terrible way.
Young and carefree
Jay Austin had it all – good looks, a charismatic personality, great friends, and an enviable job for most people his age. At 23, he was working for the federal government with views of the U.S. Capitol after graduating from the prestigious Georgetown University.
He even felt that his job was important… that he was doing something that mattered. Even then, something was missing.
In 2012, Austin quit a job that many in this country would consider secure and prestigious, took out his savings, and bought a tiny house in order to reduce his carbon footprint.
Yeah, that’s another popular thing with millennials.
Since the rest of us who are older and more experienced “ruined” the environment and society by working for the man to save our pennies for decent food, shelter, and clothing, millennials have to save the world by living as minimalists.
And Jay Austin had the idealistic millennial world view in spades. He didn’t want or need what most Americans want – or at least need. He would do with far less so he could live, instead of survive.
In a blog post reprinted by Outside, Austin wrote, “I’ve missed too many sunsets while my back was turned. Too many thunderstorms went unwatched, too many gentle breezes unnoticed. There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world, and I’ve long since scooped up the last of the scraps to be found in my cubicle.”
Let me just remind you, this kid was 23 at the time. Younger than some of my own children. A baby, I think, with so much to learn.
Yet, this very young man attended a very expensive, very prestigious university and had a great job. I respect his hard work in order to get to that point.
What I have a problem with is his idea that he is more deserving than others to enjoy a sunset or a gentle breeze.
Believe me, I’m blessed, but most people my age have worked for years to be comfortable – and we miss an awful lot of sunsets along the way. That’s part of life.
Austin loved the outdoors – running, cycling, backpacking through Europe with some of his savings. It was this passion that he shared with the new lady in his life, Lauren Geoghegan.
Austin met Geoghegan at Georgetown University, where she worked in the admissions office. Another young person with another good job for her age.
The two started taking cycling trips – first locally, then overseas.
Then they made a decision that would change a whole lot of lives.
At the end of 2016, they announced to family and friends that they would be taking a cycling trip around the world. Minimal budget and supplies. Relying on the kindness of strangers to get them through.
Proud American Traveler has reported on this before; there’s no shortage of millennials who try to travel all over the world on someone else’s dime.
People thought they were crazy. Geoghegan even questioned how they would make it, appeared hesitant, but wondered if the couple’s relationship would survive if they didn’t do this thing together.
And so they were off.
Over the course of nine months, the couple cycled from their start at the southern tip of Africa, through Europe and Asia. They planned to fly to South America and cycle back home… eventually.
They definitely saw their share of adventure, romance, and sunsets.
They faced illness and hardship, including a particularly upsetting incident in which Austin’s bike lights were stolen. He blogged that it made him upset because he then had to be more cautious about his idealistic attitude toward safety.
But the couple also experienced what they had hoped to along the way.
People shared their meals and their homes with them. During one particularly rough snowstorm, Lauren’s bike tire blew, and the pair was stranded in the middle of nowhere, freezing and unsure of what to do.
Like magic – the magic Austin always knew was out there – a man in a van appeared out of nowhere, warmed them up, and took them back to his home to eat and rest.
These were the good people they knew were out there. They would keep on, knowing there was more goodness and kindness to help them survive the trip.
In June of 2017, they traveled a 400-mile passage from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan, part of the historic Silk Road. Along the way, they met two other couples following the same route, and they all carried on together.
Austin and Geoghegan weren’t idiots. They did follow U.S. advisories for American travelers overseas. It was at the time reported to be Level 1 – the “safest” level of guidelines for travel in the country, despite its proximity to Afghanistan.
Sure, some from Tajikistan had joined ISIS, but there had been no attacks against Americans – yet.
They were still traveling with two other couples from Europe, through the mountains on their way to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where they would rest.
They were on top of the world – literally and figuratively. This was what they had dreamed of. It was all worth it.
Or was it?
While at a gas station grabbing water, the cyclists were approached by a gentleman who asked where they were from, along with several other questions.
They started off again, less than 70 miles from the capital and an actual shower and beds for the night.
Before they knew what was happening, the man from the gas station was plowing into the group with his vehicle.
Other men jumped out as the cyclists lay injured in the road and finished the job by stabbing them multiple times.
Austin was stabbed 18 times and bled to death. Lauren Geoghegan and three others in the group were also murdered.
The stranger was found to be an ISIS extremist, hell-bent on killing any “non-believer” he came across in this Muslim nation.
It was a tragic end to an adventure not without its risks and consequences. But like many other millennials who are disenchanted with their lives before they even start, the consequences were not foremost in their minds.
Social media was quickly humming with comments about the young couple who gave up a good start on their adult life to follow their dreams.
Many comments were predictably harsh – from the couple being careless and foolish, even stupid, to actually “deserving” their tragic end.
No one is arguing against following your dreams. But the reality is that most of us have to work hard to achieve those dreams in time.
We have to stop and take in the beauty while we deal with the not-so-fun aspects of life. That’s what makes the sunsets and gentle breezes even more special.
We all deserve those times, but it’s not necessarily a good character trait to feel entitled to having them all the time without paying your dues.
Life is about hard work and sacrifice, and maybe that’s one of the lessons to be learned from this tragic story.
We’d like to think people are inherently good; that they are kind and loving as God designed us to be. But there is a responsibility in being a child of God. We can take risks and have fun, but in the end, we’re supposed to exercise a bit of caution with the use of our free will.
“Evil is a make-believe concept. Humans… are kind. Generous and wonderful and kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this,” Outside reported on Austin’s blog post nine months into the trip.
To believe in the goodness of God’s creation is to also believe there is an evil determined to destroy it.
Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, posted his reaction to these tragic murders on Facebook. “Be assured, evil does exist in this world.”
It’s a tragedy that these young lives were lost, but it’s also a cautionary tale about the naivete of youth and the entitlement that seems to be ever-present these days.
My heart breaks for their parents, a loss they will never recover from. Maybe it was worth it to these kids; maybe they proved their point with the goodness they did encounter.
Or maybe their deaths were a different kind of proof. You be the judge.
I just think if life were that easy, those sunsets wouldn’t mean as much.