Have you ever been on a vacation having an amazing time and caught yourself saying something along the lines of “I wish I could stay here forever!”?
The first time I mouthed those words was as a child when my family took an annual vacation for two weeks in Myrtle Beach, SC. We left the Saturday after the school year ended and were always there to the Saturday after the fourth of July. I have fond memories of being immensely excited for those vacations when they got closer. My sister does as well. In a family where being dysfunctional was the norm and verbal shouting matches with anger and control were an everyday commonplace, the vacation in Myrtle Beach seemed like a reprieve from it all. For whatever reason, my parents became happier during it. The fighting was minimal, if present at all. My sister and I received a lot more praise. And our parents spent time doing things with us that were fun and made us feel like we were one happy family. I lived for those two weeks. I can still remember building sandcastles with my Mom and Dad. I remember having ice cream sundaes at an all you can eat toppings location after a long walk to find it. I even remember eating too much hush puppies at our favorite restaurant that we always went to on our first night out. And that’s just a couple of things that I remember fondly as there are hundreds more.
So why did my parents act differently during these annual vacations?
The best answer that I’ve been able to come up with is really based upon one of my own life’s travel experiences.
I’ve been to quite a different number of places in the world for a vacation but I have to say that I’m partial to going to beach destinations. It’s ironic because I currently live about 10 minutes from the beach and yet when I travel I like to go to places where they are present. What can I say? I love the ocean, it’s vastness, and it’s tranquility. Maybe that’s because of those beach trips I did year after year as a kid. Either way, many years ago, I took my first trip to the Caribbean. I was on a cruise that left out of Florida and was at that time in a different relationship. One that was rapidly falling apart. I really loved this man who I was trying to spend my life with, but unfortunately, he had fallen out of love with me and fallen more in love with the bed and breakfast that we were trying to own and run. What’s fascinating is that I remember how my relationship had so much drama and fighting, and arguing and yelling, even right up until the day that vacation began. But when we arrived at our warm and tropical destination, my partner started to treat me so much better. He showed me affection again. He offered me the warmth our relationship had once shared. He paid me compliments and gave me the attention that had long since disappeared. And that’s when I caught myself saying those words again, “I wish I could stay here forever!” And that’s when it finally began to dawn on me why my family was so happy on each of our annual vacations and why it seemed to be happening again in totally different circumstances.
Life is distracting. Our self-will takes us down paths that change our focus from the things that truly mean something, to things that we think are supposed to mean something. We place all our attention on making money, building businesses, acquiring “things”, and being busy for long hours of the day, all the while losing interest and focus on one the most important things in this world. Love. Love for ourselves and love for another. The partner I had on that vacation back then had been with me at that point for about five years. In the first few years, he could have been the poster child for what unconditional love is. Then came the day that he began to pursue his dream to run a bed and breakfast. Over time, the burdens of achieving that dream shifted his interests and his love on every level from me to it. The same held true for my family. My father relentlessly pursued his IBM career with long work hours. My mother in turn gave up her dream of being a French Interpreter that she had originally gone to college for, and instead became a housewife. Neither seemed very happy with themselves or their day to day lives but being on vacation changed everything. There were no worries or concerns for either of them other than where to go for dinner or what putt-putt course to play that evening. I saw my mother and father hold hands, laugh, and be happy with each other. As soon as we would arrive back at our home upon completion of the vacation, it was as if all of what we had just experienced in the past two weeks had been an illusion. The fighting resumed. My sister and I got yelled at again for no reason. And we were left with another 50 weeks to look forward to our next reprieve.
Vacations are just that, a reprieve from life. They can be awesome and rekindle some elements that may have dwindled in connections between friends or partners. Unfortunately, the longer the vacation, the more apt the everyday aspects of life will return. I’ve experienced it having thought I could make the loving times last longer by extending more weeks onto the end of once shorter trips. In each and every case, those worries and concerns, and those things that shifted the focus away from the love in the first place, began to creep back in, along with the fights and the arguments.
Today I’m in a much healthier relationship where I’ve noticed something pretty special. We express love to each other all the time even with each of our own concerns of every day life. When we take one of these reprieves and go on vacation, it only gets better. I believe that’s the way it probably should have been in all of my dysfunctional relationships prior to this including even my family. I don’t wish anymore that I could stay forever at where I’m traveling to. I believe that’s because I’ve placed God today at the center of my life and in doing that, it seems that whether I’m sipping fruity drinks under the tropical sun or whether I’m home watching snow accumulate in feet, that I happy either way.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson