Vacation Can Heighten Appreciation Of Joys Of Home
Published: August 5, 2004
Sometimes the ho-hum aspects of life wear us down. We have dishes to wash, groceries to buy, laundry to put away and our work to do at the office—and at night, we fall into bed. Then get up the next day and start all over.
No wonder a vacation seems like a golden point of light on a faraway horizon. If we can just get to…the beach, the mountains, the lake, then we will be fine, we tell ourselves.
We just have to get away. Or. We. Will. Go. Insane.
And then comes the preparation for the trip, which for me consists of getting someone to feed the gerbils, the hamster and the cat, and keep an eye on the tomato plants.
After that, I must take the entire contents of my house and stuff them into two suitcases.
We also must rent a car, because ours is a bit too elderly to make a really long trip. Once that is negotiated, we pack the car, make lunches, and arise early on the day of departure because my husband wants to “make good time.” Of course.
Ten miles down the road come the inevitable questions: Are you sure you threw the dead bolt? And did anyone change the gerbils’ water?
Despite the long, boring stretch of endless road on I-75, I thoroughly enjoy an occasional getaway. After all, whether we visit a small mountain town or a village by the sea, vacations give us a chance to try on someone else’s life for a while.
Vacations also give us a chance to become the outsider, the stranger, the foreigner. This can be a very humbling experience, and is probably good for most of us.
On a recent trip to a wedding in Tampa, my husband and I definitely got a taste of being foreign. We spent two nights in the motel tossing miserably on unfamiliar mattresses, surrounded by strangers in adjoining rooms who were no doubt fidgeting on equally bumpy beds.
In the morning, we gathered with these strangers to partake of the hilariously named “continental breakfast,” which consisted of aging bagels and muffins, plus pots of amazingly watery coffee.
We did what strangers generally do, which is get lost, over and over. Despite our cousins’ carefully detailed maps, we still had trouble finding our way down unfamiliar roads.
Somehow, though, we did arrive at the rehearsal dinner in Plant City right on time. And then we really got a taste of being outsiders.
We ended up at a table with three very young couples we had never met. Although they acknowledged our existence as we sat down, it was tough going after that.
Clearly, the young couples knew each other well and were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. They didn’t seem to relish the thought of two decidedly middle-aged strangers joining them.
To make matters worse, my husband and I had unknowingly committed a huge fashion boo-boo, since we were both wearing khaki pants and green and white shirts.
No doubt this added to the impression that we were strange.
It was exhausting, I have to say, chipping away at huge blocks of conversational ice and asking the usual polite questions, like “Do you live nearby?” “Where do you work?” and (the last resort) “Do you have any pets?”
I’ll admit that I hated being a stranger that night. Still, I reminded myself about the story of the risen Christ meeting his friends on the road to Emmaus.
As you may recall, his friends had no idea who he was.
They figured he had to be an out-of-towner, since he apparently didn’t know the story about a man called Jesus who had been crucified.
What strikes me whenever I read that particular passage (Luke 24:13-35) is this: Although they did not know who this man on the road to Emmaus was, they didn’t hesitate to invite him to come home with them.
They spontaneously did something I would have great difficulty doing, which was inviting a complete stranger to supper. Instead of being fearful, withdrawn or standoffish, they really welcomed this man.
And how richly rewarded they were, because as he broke bread and gave it to them, their eyes were opened—and they realized that this foreigner was their beloved Lord.
As I sat there at the rehearsal dinner, dawdling with my broccoli, I thought about the miracle of that scene. Obviously his friends could have given him the cold shoulder since they didn’t know who he was.
I realized how hard it is to be a stranger, trying to tell people the shorthand version of your life, and hoping they will find you worthy of sharing a few stories about their own lives.
I also wished we hadn’t both worn the green shirts.
We were only away for two nights, and yet my homesickness reached a crescendo by Sunday morning, the day we were to return, so we were in the car by 7 a.m., eager to hit the speedway and get home.
Seven hours and twenty minutes later, we arrived at our home in Decatur, which had seemed like a humble abode when we left but now resembled a lovely mansion set in a forest.
The tomato plants had doubled in size, and the ruby-faced roses on my Don Juan bush were grinning a fond hello.
Walking into the house, I felt a great surge of gratitude for the gleaming hardwood floors, the peacefulness of the cat asleep in her favorite chair, the gerbils and the hamsters bedded down in their aquariums.
Although I enjoy the occasional vacation, it is a real joy for a major homebody like me to take a shower in my own bathroom and a nap in my own bed, beneath the cozy quilt.
That evening we sat on the front porch and heard a mockingbird going through his repertoire of songs, perhaps letting us know he’d missed us.
We sipped homemade wine and reflected how ecstatic we were to no longer be in a cramped car hurling through space at 70 miles an hour. How lovely instead to be back in a world where people know, and maybe even love, us.
Perhaps it is good occasionally to go to a town where you only know a handful of folks. When you sleep on ancient mattresses and eat dry bread for breakfast, it sure makes you grateful for the everyday blessings of your life.
It also is good to walk among people you have never met before—and whom you may never see again. Although it is uncomfortable, it is good to become an outsider for a while.
It makes you aware of how you treat strangers in your own life.
After all, they pass among us every day, the people in the grocery store, the people who share the roads with us, the new folks at work and the visitors at church.
Whether we are on vacation or not, our challenge is to treat strangers with compassion and respect. And if we are very fortunate, perhaps our eyes will be opened—and we will see the one who is in their hearts. Jesus Christ himself.
Lorraine V. Murray writes a column every other Saturday for the Faith and Values section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She is the author of two books: “Grace Notes” (Catholic Book Publishing/Resurrection Press) and “Why Me? Why Now? Finding Hope When You Have Breast Cancer” (Ave Maria Press). She lives in Decatur with her husband, Jef, a cat, two gerbils and a hamster. E-mail: email@example.com.