I try to have one moment each day that feels like a vacation. That is my new vacation strategy. My old vacation strategy was to look forward to a planned trip, but my strategy has changed as the world has changed.
I missed taking a real vacation this summer, but I feel grateful for all the vacation moments that I have been having each day. Some of the vacation moments I experience with my wife and others I experience alone—or with our dog Maggie. Like most dogs, Maggie is always up for a vacation moment. She does not have a job so she is not torn about whether she should be working or enjoying herself.
I feel fortunate to have the kind of job that includes plenty of enjoyment. I have often mentioned to younger clients, “Isn’t it a great gig that I get paid to talk to a cool kid like you?” As meaningful as it for me to be a psychologist, it is also meaningful to be a wanderer, which is what I like to be when we’re on vacation. My favorite vacations are road trips across the country where we don’t know exactly where we are going or how long we will stay at each stop along the way. We have certain dots in mind that we hope to connect, but those dots are never more important than the spaces between them.
I try to adopt a similar mindset when I walk with Maggie in the woods each day. Maggie is fine with wandering and never insists that we follow a certain path. She knows how to let things happen and doesn’t feel compelled to always make things happen. I can obviously learn something from her, because I have always felt more of an affinity to the Make Things Happen Tribe than the Let Things Happen Tribe. I am realizing that there are no rules that forbid dual membership in both these tribes and that a balanced life is about taking advantage of what each has to offer.
When you think about it, what is there really to make happen when you’re on a vacation? The same is true when you sit down for dinner. I have tried to think of our dinners as mini-vacations, which was a little easier to do when the weather was warmer and we could sit outside on the front porch. Lately, we have been watching the news during dinner—something I didn’t do for over two years while I was on a strict news diet. Dinner doesn’t feel as recreational when we’re watching the news, but it still feels meaningful. Sometimes both dinner and vacations are about more than recreation. The last vacation we took was to the Adirondacks so we could climb one of my favorite mountains on my 60th birthday. While I’m watching the news, it often feels like our country is climbing a mountain of justice, but we keep slipping and tumbling down towards the bottom.
When my brother was alive, he used to say, “America has gotten good at hiding its hate.” I guess America isn’t as good at hiding it as it used to be—or no longer cares to hide it. My brother died a little over a year ago while I was on vacation, the day after my 60th birthday, a little over a year ago. He never took a single vacation in his adult life. I once felt bad for him and asked him if he wanted to go anywhere for a few days. He said, “No, I’m okay right here.”
I am also trying to be okay right here for now—instead of planning a trip to a place that is supposedly more exciting. Ann Arbor, Michigan is a pretty good place to be during these pandemic times, as most people wear masks and are respectful of social distancing guidelines. While the news has reported the recent activity of right-wing militia groups in our state, I am pretty sure these folks don’t live in Ann Arbor. We also don’t have to worry about fire or hurricane seasons. I realize that some people on the coasts view the Midwest as “boring,” but I have never held my state or region responsible for my own inspiration. That is on me. And I definitely look forward to heading out West for an adventure when the time is right, but in the meantime I’ll keep trying to harvest as many vacation moments as possible in my dear hometown.