On Vacation

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I’ve been on vacation. Really, fully, on vacation. I’ve unwound, becoming so relaxed and in the moment that I literally do not know what day it is. I have been sleeping deeply, breathing deeply, laughing deeply—so much so that my body flops over in paroxysms of laughter. I am the me I prefer to hang out with most: my vacation self.  

There are a number of things I notice about my vacation self that I want to discuss here, but before I continue, there is a sub-layer to this topic I feel the need to excavate which is: being blessed. Having the privilege and luxury to go on vacation—and not only that, but to have people in my life who nourish my soul, family and friends I adore, with whom I get to vacation. Going public with blessings such as these is a mixed endeavor. It can seem like bragging. It can land as – or even be – insensitive to those lacking in the very things I wish to celebrate. I want to find a way to express my gratitude for when things are going bountifully well in my life that is not obnoxious.

I wrote a manuscript (not yet a published book) that I intended to be an exploration of two major miracles that happened in my life, a manifesto of gratitude for the blessed resolution of two life-and-death calamities—one that ended in a gentle death, the other in a full-blown resurrection to life. A true story in which the person who was supposed to live lived (my twelve-year-old daughter), and the one who needed to die died (my seventy-three-year-old father). But writing from gratitude about good fortune proved to be tricky. A tall order I haven’t yet quite achieved. My manuscript landed to a literary expert as a fairy tale lacking narrative tension, a memoir akin to hanging my blessings out to air on a long laundry line of narcissistic white privilege. (The “narrator”—aka me—coming across as the vacuous narcissist.) Needless to say, that was not at all my intention—and the critique landed like a punch to the gut, and a brutal wake-up call. I have time set aside this coming summer to try to tackle the challenge of rewriting the manuscript. Of writing from the perspective of gratitude, a glass half-full kind of lens (such as experiencing the gentle death of my beloved father as a blessing) without minimizing the pain of my experiences (such as the fact his death was also an untimely tragedy).  

So let me say that it is with some trepidation here that I go public here with the glories of re-discovering my vacation self. I know it is a blessing and a privilege to have just experienced this, and I am deeply grateful. This vacation allowed me to unhook from all sense of responsibility. To lose touch with the calendar. To not engage for a single second in scheduling (which is the bane of a work life I otherwise find soulful and fulfilling). My only duties have been to keep track of my belongings—meaning my skis, gloves, goggles, helmet, and ski pass—and to stay on the trail designated as our route. I have not lived up to these minor duties with anything close to perfection, but the impact of my mistakes causes only short-lived stress. Waiting in a ridiculously long line once to renew my ski pass. Ending up in (literally) another country by taking the wrong trail. Inconveniences that take place in the context of breathtaking natural beauty, fresh air, and the sound of so many other languages being spoken in my snowy radius.  There has also been the bigger overall responsibility of avoiding injury, which has been constantly present, but somehow without the nagging experience of stress. It’s on my mind, but lightly—not with tension, not causing contraction in my body.

I love who I am when I am not stressed. When I remember that the small stuff is just the small stuff and not to sweat it. I am so much more available for connection with my family and friends in my midst. I aspire to live in this state of being all the time. But I know the return to non-vacation life will bring with it the time pressure, the financial pressure, the conundrum of how to fit it all in. And I know this sense of pressure will cause my body to contract in certain ways at certain times, my breathing to become more shallow, even staccato now and then, my laughter less fluidly available. But my vacation self has an idea. My vacation self believes that we could experience life (whether on vacation or not) in a state like this—not necessarily as a vacation but at least as an adventure. A journey—and a short one at that. A finite visit to planet earth. One that has a beginning, a middle, and for every single one of us, an end. This journey, this adventure, will be and is replete with inconveniences and losses, joys and delights and discovery—all of which come and go, all of which show up and then pass.

When I tap into this reality in my daily life—inhabit the awareness that This Too Shall Pass, whatever it is, be it joy or distress, bounty or loss—I feel the presence of my vacation self. My vacation self remembers not to stress, because it’s all fleeting. It’s all—and by all, I mean not only every single event, be it a tragedy or a vacation, but also every single one of us—here and then gone. If we remember this, we can aspire not to stress out. Or when we do catch ourselves stressing, we can remember This Too Shall Pass. And loosen our grip on things. Take things a little more lightly. Breathe a little more deeply. Laugh a little more readily. Be the self whose constant companionship we enjoy most.

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