Most trips my wife and I took since our wedding were merely travel – complete with a detailed itinerary. They involved as many relatives as possible. It was misguided, but it was how we measured a trip’s success.
You probably know at least a few people like this – folks who don’t think a trip has worth unless they need a vacation afterwards.
Do you know what I like best about a vacation? I like not thinking about what I want or need to do next. This doesn’t always happen when we travel – thus the distinction between travel and vacation. Vacation may be a subset of travel, but it doesn’t take business to take the vacation out of a trip. Last week I had a vacation.
We went to Ocean City, New Jersey. Why New Jersey, you might ask? It’s where my brother-in-law’s parents met. Long story not so long, they went every year for nostalgia’s sake (and because they had fun), my sister went after she met Mike, and she talked us into joining them, renting a second floor condo looking out over the five mile boardwalk, the imposing dunes, and the Atlantic Ocean. In short, she made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. I don’t need to tell you this was a vacation, not if you’ve read my earlier posts.
While I’m glad we went, today was time to go back to work. Yesterday was supposed to be the day but I had a doctor’s appointment – and, well – I felt a little unwell. Is it possible I just had a case of post-vacation blues? That’s something only me and my thermometer know, and neither one of us talks much.
Why is it so hard to go back to work after vacation? Unless we hate our jobs and the people who share space with them, returning shouldn’t be all that bad. We’re returning to life. Real life. We’re returning to people we generally like, to jobs we find at least bearable – if not rewarding. I’d imagine a few people feel more at home at work, those lucky enough to have a job that’s more than a career – a calling.
Tonight I’m just not buying. You see, for me a vacation is a glimpse at perfection. It’s like drinking water all your life then tasting a sip of fine wine, but only just that sip. Water doesn’t taste quite the same after that sip, but why should that be? If we generally enjoy life (when not suffering from depression), why loathe it’s return? (In my case it may have something to do with that depression.)
In my mind I keep going back to a conversation while we were in NJ. It was one of the more serious conversations… most of them were rather light. A topic and a few tangents were discussed, but my cynic’s lightbulb went off and I quieted the group with a single line. “I think the problem is too many people in this world are too stupid to understand or accept that the world we live in is gray.”
I warned you it was going to be cynical. And yes, I know it loses something without the context, but sums up why I can’t come to grips with the return to work. In my mind’s eye, vacation proves the purest white exists, and I lose a bit of my grasp on reality. That, and I’m just as stupid as a lot of folks out there. Life is rarely that perfect. We should recognize, savor, and celebrate it when it comes along, but realize it’s not forever. It’s not sustainable. Life is messy. Life can be a struggle – to each in his or her own way. The trick is to balance the light and the dark, to live in the gray, sustained by the moments of light – at times making our own.
I think about the peddlers of “success” manuals, the “you can be happy all the time” crowd, and religious zealots (talking about these mysterious plans, or giving away free toasters with each first time prayer). I probably think about them too much. I think they are a lot like a vacation (from reality). I think they pose a real danger.
It’s when we think everything can always be perfect that we’re ripe for disappointment.
We can strive for it. We can look forward to those moments when we achieve it. But I don’t think we should always expect it. Not from ourselves, or our lives.