What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

Disclaimer: I know this is late, very late. But stuff happens. Like family. Like work. Like dead car batteries. 

But I digress. Let me take you back to August when the days were longer and the leaves were lush. Let’s go back to summer.

Summer vacation isn’t all Utopian perks: sleeping late, espresso at four, binge trash reading.  Well, maybe it mostly is about this.

But there can be some real learning happening, too.  Like karaoke is best enjoyed as a spectator sport. Or there is such a thing as too much kite string on the beach at night.  Or SPF 100 isn’t all that effective on the kitchen table.

It has been said that the best lessons are those that occur spontaneously, unexpectedly. In no particular order, allow me to share five unexpected take-aways from my summer vacation.

Respect the Earth

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

Image result for images of walden pond

A visit to Walden Pond linked past, present and future. No exaggeration: it changed my life. The pond–actually a lake–and its protected woods reminded me of the undeveloped beauty not just in this park, but in so many local places we take for granted. Beyond sustenance and shelter Thoreau discovered, there are spaces for reflection and for recreation.

In this setting, the enormous responsibility of stewardship weighed heavily. Thoreau would likely be horrified at aspects of modern life.   Waste. So many unnecessary plastics: bags, bottles, packaging.  Unbridled consumption.

I am on it. Small steps to be sure, but on it none the less.

Want Isn’t Need  Image result for thoreau images

For me, want vs. need is usually about footwear: I want a new pair of boots. But I don’t need them.

I am no Kondo-maniac, but there is merit in simple living.  Thoreau knew this.

I picked up this lesson when fellow travelers– in a souvenir-fueled feeding frenzy– randomly seized tee shirts, shot glasses, jewelry that may or may not already be lost in space. All out of  momentary want not from need.

I may not be able to exist as simply as Thoreau did, but I learned I don’t want my life characterized by conspicuous consumption.


 Walk in someone else’s shoes

Image result for thoreau images  Or boots. Or sandals. Just walk. Look through a new lens.

On a bus tour of Nassau in the Bahamas, we walked in the opulence of several all-inclusive resorts. Strolling in those shoes–Jimmy Choos and Louboutins– , on glistening marble floors among high end shops was a momentary walk in privilege.  The last stop on the tour, a Bahamian neighborhood of  makeshift food stands and grocers, was a bare-foot trek into the reality of poverty and strife, thatched roofs, dirt floors.

Even as it shrinks, the world is a huge place. None of us are at its center.

Hiking someone else’s trail yields multiple perspectives and evolving empathy.

 Listen more. Talk less.

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Thoreau had three chairs in his cottage: one chair was for solitude, two chairs were for friendship, and three chairs were for society.  Solitude has its place, but we need one another, too.

Everyone has a story. Everyone.

This summer, we tried to hear the stories that define people. The story of a Canadian woman whose challenged son was initially written off because of his disabilities, but who went on to earn an MS in engineering. The story of a newly wed couple from Pennsylvania. The story of a bartender from California. The story of a grandmother from Long Island. The story of the man wearing two different shoes.

Listening changes you. It changes how you see others, how you see yourself. You may feel gratitude. Envy. Pity. Hope. Joy. Faith.  But mostly, you feel connected to humanity.

We need more time to use two and three chairs.

Device detox

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By necessity, we had to look up from the phone, close the laptop, step away from the tablet.  Inconvenient at first; wonderful in the long run.

Technology has its place. It’s true: you can’t get news from your doctor or close out a utilities account without going on line.  Sharing photos and experiences bridges miles that separate us.

But escaping the relentless bells and whistles of instant communication brought me profound peace, in a small way, like how Thoreau must have felt at Walden, secluded from the nineteenth century buzz of Concord.


Though Thoreau never said this, I will: better late than never.

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