Joseph Kosma of Du Quoin is an adventurer, and he's setting out today on a big one.
It's not the farthest he's traveled -- he's been to quite a few far-flung places -- but it just might be an important one, or maybe not. You never know. Kosma's willing to take that chance.
Kosma, 37, is compelled to go on this 3,500-mile road trip -- let's call it a spiritual urging -- and to document his journey. He just wants to tell everyone who has ever put something personally important on hold, for whatever reason, that the time to do it is now and the place to start is here.
"Stop making excuses! That's my message," he said. "Just watch me go on this trip. I don't have a lot of money, so I'm doing it cheaply. I have about two free weeks, so my time is limited. And I'm in a wheelchair. So, what's your excuse?"
Kosma and his best friend, Kenny Elder, are leaving today, April 4 on a cross-country road trip, a big loop across the southwestern states and up the west coast to Washington, stopping along the way to see the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park in Utah, Yellowstone National Park, some giant Sequoia trees "and hopefully some baby bison, if we have time," Kosma said, before driving home in time to be at work April 22.
"I've always loved to travel," he said. "It's magical to me."
And Kosma has traveled extensively, mostly as a missionary. He's been to Europe and Africa more than once, and he's also been to India, Thailand, Nepal and the Arctic Circle, where he saw the Northern Lights.
He's always been an adventurer. As a young man he loved to skateboard and snowboard and compete in off-road bicycle races.
He hasn't always been in a wheelchair. Kosma was on his way home from a family event in Texas on New Year's Day 2001, traveling in a two-car caravan, when the first car slid on some ice and went off the road. Kosma pulled over and got out to make sure everyone was OK when another car hit a patch of black ice and slammed into him at about 70 mph. Kosma's injuries were life-threatening.
"No one thought I would live, not even the doctors at the trauma center" he said. "I used every pint of my type of blood that the hospital had. I was in intensive care for six weeks, and when my parents visited, they didn't recognize me. It truly was a miracle."
But that was and is little comfort when you wake to find that you can no longer walk or do the simple things that everyone takes for granted. Kosma fell into a deep depression and stayed there for about two years.
When pressed for how he recovered from that dark place, Kosma is enigmatic, only saying that his mother's love never shined so brightly as during that time. And yes, he did experience a spiritual renewal, one that sent him out as a missionary, but that's not what he wants to focus on during this adventure.
"This documentary makes it a working trip," he said.
Kosma, who is an accomplished musician, also has become a skilled photographer and videographer. He's taken photographs for some time on his travels, but only became serious about it a few years ago, when he took an online class and started taking photos every day.
"I started making little videos for myself and for my church, then I made some at a missionary school and in 2014, I put together footage from my time in Thailand," he said.
When he returns, he plans to enter his documentary, tentatively titled "No Excuses," in "every film festival I can find," he said.
No excuses: that's the reason for the trip and the film, he said. But dig a little bit deeper, down to the core reason that Kosma is taking off into the unknown once again, and you find the sheer delight he experiences when he's able to lift someone up, especially if it's someone he's just met along the way.
What remains constant in all of Kosma's encounters is the universal human need for simple kindness, for someone who will listen and offer some sincere encouragement.
"What I love more than anything else is encouraging people, whether it's with my music or my photography or my videos or my story," he said. "Everybody needs encouragement."
You can read Kosma's story in his own words at josephkosma.org. You can donate to his latest adventure and his documentary through his PayPal account, email@example.com or keep up with his daily adventures along the way by following Joseph Kosma on Facebook.