I finally got into “vacation mode” yesterday, right on schedule. It normally takes me four days. Four days to settle into the rhythm of doing nothing at no particular time. Four days to loosen the strings that tie me to my normal concerns.
Even of vacation, I often set out demanding more than the requisite sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling: walk or work out (daily), read and write (a lot). Resolve nagging issues about work. Figure out where I’m really going with my life, my career. All the things I want to do at home but am too busy for. All things that I should realize I’ll be too busy to accomplish on vacation as well.
Still, I tossed a journal, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, and a handful of books downloaded on my Kindle into my carry-on bag on the way out the door last Tuesday when I set out with my daughter Taylor and her friend for a week-long trip to the island of Aruba.
I get up fairly early even on vacation, and enjoy my morning coffee and solitude outdoors on the balcony. Four mornings ago I sat alone with my hotel-brewer cup of Starbucks, the New York Times on my Kindle, and tears clouding my view of a rippling turquoise ocean sixteen floors below. “…In a country where memories of a nuclear horror of a different sort in the last days of World War II weigh heavily on the national psyche and national politics, the impact of continued venting of long-lasting radioactivity from the plants is hard to overstate,” were the words I read.
And what am I to do with this time, with this sunshine, this view?
The other night, after an argument over the teenage girls proposing a solo visit to Senor Frog’s – something we’d definitively settled before I’d agreed to the trip – Taylor and I wound up talking in the beater rent-a-car outside the hotel, a rare Aruba rain marring the windows around us. Our conversation wandered from apologies through tears to college (she’s still waiting to hear), as far as the meaning of life. “I don’t even know WHAT I want to study at college or what I want to BE. It feels like the only thing that matters is nature. Everything else seems fake. People can be so fake. I mean, Mom, WHAT is this place? Why are we even here? Why do we go on vacation? Aruba’s a grain of sand! We’re nothing!”
How can I help with questions I can’t answer myself?
“I think we have to make meaning of our own lives…. Maybe we need vacations to rest, to get some perspective…. Some things are about ego and some things are about what’s real….” I struggle. I change tack:
“It sounds like truth is important to you….” Yes. “If nature and honesty matter to you, listen to that.…” Mm.
“Listen to that, Honey. Listen to yourself.”
Day four and the overnight rains broke yesterday morning. I read a day-old New York Times from beginning to end, not bothering to download the latest news. I didn’t cry.
Our skin full of color, the girls and I started seeking a little shade instead of greedily consuming sunshine at the pool. I finished Gift from the Sea. We walked, we sailed, we kicked and floated on our bellies with tropical fish. And we walked some more.
You count days in Aruba like coins, or cards, holding them in a tight hand and relinquishing each with a longing regret until none remain. You know you have traded each for something, although you look over each shoulder and can’t quite locate what it is.
I have two cards left in my hand. Today we will spend time at the pool, and drive to Baby Beach on the far side of the island to explore. We’ll put on pretty sleeveless dresses tonight and eat outdoors among waxy green plants and tinkling lights, warm breezes and unfamiliar languages brushing our ears. We’ll laugh when the driver side window on the beater stops working, and squeal trying to drive across what looks like a lake in the road. We won’t resolve any great issues, but perhaps where we’re going and what’s important will become just a little clearer to all of us.