This Thursday P and I head west to begin a fall vacation, mostly consisting of driving my parents’ old Prius (thanks guys!) from Portland, OR back to Norway, ME.
Indulging P’s news addiction, we often get the NYT on Sundays and read through it throughout the week.
A few weeks back, an article from the magazine stood out, in which a middle-aged American man became enraptured with a small town in northern Spain – through the lens of cheese (I do love cheese…I would like to take this moment to note I just discovered that there is a wealth of stock photos of attractive women eating blocks of cheese on the Internet. Obviously.).
He discovers a type of freedom there that he experienced during childhood vacations:
“Even at the time, I realized my parents were somehow different on vacation, airier and at ease, youthful in their goofiness and laughter, more attentive of us — and each other — for during that one time of year, we mostly had ourselves, without distraction.”
Meeting with Ambrosio, the patron of the town and cheesemaking family, the author becomes almost addicted to the reality he connects with: ““The problem with modern life is that nobody knows how to defecate anymore,” he said. “This is the most important thing.” Then he held forth on the topic for an hour.”
Ambrosio enlivens this bland man’s life, invigorating what has become mundane and providing justification to feel life and be fed by that emotion.
The author goes on to realize that his obsession is perhaps overwrought and a bit delusional:
“I was happy to believe in it, for this is what travel is too: a kind of childlike wonder — and this sort of woozy love that doesn’t contemplate loss — that, when pushed further, becomes life again. There you are, with all your familiar dreams and conflicts, the constant skirmishes between frustration and transcendence, your best and worst selves. However far you go, there you are, with your same fear of mortality, and this deep desire to hold on to your kids forever.”
While I agree that we all must confront reality and respond to the needs of our world, our families and our deepest questions, I frankly balked at his suggestion that these feelings of freedom are not available to the modern American. Yes, it is unfair and unwise to view any community with only rose-colored glasses, not admitting the faults, the struggles, the pain, or the frustrations.
Yet, it is possible, I must believe it is, to find a way to embrace an ongoing feeling of this “vacation self” – where one is light, free, loved and joyful.
As a mentor once told me, joy is not happiness. It is the ability to hold, sit with, and look at our sorrows, yet respond with hope.
It is about actively seeking these spaces that make us feel childlike wonder and truly appreciating our capacity to feel what a gift life is – flexing our bodies through this murky, mucked-up, beautiful time.
When we drive next week, I know I’ll be taking Ambrosio’s advice:
He stood there under a bright moon, with his finger to his lip. “Shhhhh, listen,” he said. “If you listen, the silence has a lot to say.”
I’ll report back with what it says.