I grew up on a farm where the term “vacation” had absolutely no meaning. We did not load up the five kids into the car and take off for the Pacific. In fact, though we were only 75 miles from the Atlantic, we never went to see that, either.
The highlight of my summers as a child occurred when we took a single day trip (cows have to be milked twice a day, so vacations occur between those daily milkings)–to Hershey Park, to the Philadelphia Zoo, or to a local park for a picnic. Even those adventures depended on the weather. If it rained, we were freer to leave, but our choices for outings were more limited. If the day dawned perfect, we might have to give up our much-anticipated trip in favor of baling hay from morning to night.
I fully intended to live a different kind of life. I craved time to read and write more than anything, which is why I majored in English, chose to become a teacher, then professor. Getting paid to read and write–what could be better? Looking backward from those long days in the fields, any profession looks soft. Farming is to other work what a medicine ball is to basketball. But I never realized that I was choosing another kind of work that never ended. Despite a fantasy that adulthood would bring me leisurely days of eating bonbons while lying on a chaise lounge, I somehow acquired my father’s and grandparents’ work ethic.
I spent four years writing a dissertation while I also taught large classes, had a baby, and participated in community and church activities. That meant staying up late, going back to work when everyone was gone at Christmas, and staying at a friend’s house to get the quiet I needed to write for a week at a time in the summer. Lots of vacation time went into work.
The same has happened in many other jobs. I am trying to take the country out of the girl, but I can reform my habits only so much.
Right now, I am in the midst of a vacation. It has taken five days to wean myself off a handful of projects that I could not leave behind, delegate to others the ones that had to move forward in my absence, and do the little tasks around the house that were waiting for me to run out of excuses. I conducted a workshop, went to the dentist, helped send out 80 Christmas cards, and spent an hour on the treadmill every day. So far this vacation has been all action and very little contemplation.
At least I am aware of the irony in all this action. I decided to tackle contemplation with the same kind of zeal I lavish on everything else. I made a to-do list with meditation at the top. I will let you know how it goes. . . after I clean out the refrigerator!