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Symbolism in a Bottle of Whisky

Updated: Jun 28

In September of 2006, my wife and I embarked on a life-changing journey to Scotland, igniting a sense of adventure and wanderlust within us. The trip served as a catalyst for our future aspirations, while simultaneously becoming an excuse to postpone other responsibilities and goals we had set for ourselves. We naively believed that once we had explored the world, we would be ready to settle into a conventional routine of work, homeownership, and starting a family.

Little did we know, our perception of the world was about to expand beyond measure. Despite having lived in Germany and visited Ireland, Scotland was the missing piece of our travel puzzle. We saw it as the final destination before we could begin living a "normal" life.

Filled with anticipation, we packed our bags and, perhaps imprudently, added to our mounting credit card debt in order to make the trip possible. Edinburgh welcomed us with its majestic beauty and historic charm. And it was there, on our second day in the city, that we encountered a mysterious woman who would forever alter our perspective.

This enigmatic woman introduced us to the concept of a "retirement collection" – a carefully curated assortment of whiskies amassed over a lifetime of work, to be savored and enjoyed during retirement or other significant milestones. She recommended starting with a bottle of the 1988 Vintage Tullibardine, explaining that it was their finest vintage, overshadowed by the popular belief that the '92 edition was superior.

Intrigued by her suggestion, we found ourselves in a whisky shop a few days later, gazing upon the very bottle she had recommended. Holding it up proudly for my wife to see, she couldn't help but ask about the price. Resignedly, she stopped mid-question, realizing my determination to purchase it regardless.

That particular bottle, at the time, was the most expensive I had ever bought, contributing further to our mounting debt. Over the next few years, its value fluctuated, reaching double what I had paid at one point, only to decline and settle at half its initial worth.

As time passed, the symbolic weight of that whisky bottle grew exponentially. Bottled to commemorate King James IV's 500th coronation anniversary, it already carried inherent symbolism. But for us, it had become a tangible representation of our evolving understanding of the whisky industry and our burgeoning passion for it. We repeatedly declared that we would only open it when a significant life event justified breaking the seal.

Unbeknownst to us, our decision to leave the bottle unopened transformed its symbolism into something far more profound. It began to embody our past follies, our acceptance of debt as an ordinary facet of life, and our eagerness to conform to societal expectations.

By 2007, we managed to pay off our credit card debt, vowing never to let it accumulate again. However, substantial student loans and various car loans continued to loom over us. That bottle, purchased with money we didn't possess, came to represent our debts.

But recently, a revelation dawned upon us, unraveling the true essence of that long-untouched symbol. It symbolized not only our past foolishness but also our newfound determination to make a lifestyle change. We downsized our home, committed ourselves to collecting experiences rather than material possessions, and embarked on a journey to eradicate debt from our lives. Today, I am delighted to proclaim that, save for our modest mortgage, we are finally debt-free.

The exhilaration we feel is immeasurable. I now truly own my education, and the possessions we possess are genuinely ours. No longer do we view trips as a trade-off between intelligence and enjoyment; we can embark on adventures with pure, unburdened enthusiasm.

And as for that bottle, which has remained a dusty relic for 13 long years, today is the day we crack it open. Its last symbolic meaning will no longer reside in the future but rather in the present, embodying the lessons learned from our past foolishness and celebrating the transformative journey that brought us here.

(On a side note, having now visited 17 countries, I am acutely aware of how much of the world remains unseen. And despite the initial silliness of venturing to Scotland on credit, my wife and I agree wholeheartedly that we would do it all over again.)

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