Saturday, 9 July 2016

Thoughts from the Edge

So here we are, having hauled out trailer out to the ocean’s edge once again. For the last five years, this has been our favourite go-to spot for summer camping. The kids and grandkids schedule their outings to the island around the dates we booked; they love it here, too, and think of it as their “cottage” experience. It’s lovely and relaxing.

There was nothing relaxing, however, about packing up the trailer. What to take? What to leave behind? Should I take the sewing machine? Yes, of course. Which projects shall I finish out there, to contribute to Project UP (Unclog the Pipes?) How many books should I pack, and which ones? I’ve been studying memoir-writing, so probably those books should come. (The inner debate is truly silly, since our campsite is so close to home, I could go home anytime I want to get what’s missing.)  Still, I want to get it right.

A friend  phones in the middle of our packing, expecting to find me in happy pre-vacation mode. Instead she hears my harried voice on the other end of the line. “What’s got you all in a knot?” she asks. “Oh, I can’t decide what to pack. I just want to take it all, and then some, just in case,” I confess. “Oh, Jessie,” she gently chides. “Therein lies madness.” Yup. Busted.

The truth is, were I to admit it: I think I really don’t deserve a vacation. A vacation is for people who have been working hard and been productive, and that, assuredly, has not been me in the last months. Project UP is in limbo; I got a few unfinished projects done, but the rest are staring me in the face. My latest attempt at a fabric art piece is also stalled, hanging on the design wall, whispering doubts into my ears and my heart. I haven’t even been blogging regularly, for goodness sake.

That’s why I’m packing “projects” to finish up out here – as though if I get something worthwhile done, I’ll deserve our vacation. I’ve been telling myself that being out at the sea will bring me renewed vision and energy for these undone things.

As my friend said, “Therein lies madness.”

It doesn’t happen, of course. We’ve been here for more than a week, and there have been days when we had a schedule. But there have also been days spent totally at the campsite doing nothing “worthwhile.” We’ve slept in, walked, read voraciously, played games, and sat by the side of the sea looking at nothing in particular and everything in general.

No projects completed. Nothing ticked off our list. Nothing that says, “There! You’ve redeemed yourself! Now go and take it easy.”

This message – “You don’t deserve it unless you first do x, y, and z...”  – has been like a ghost child tip-toeing around behind me for much of my life. As the oldest child of an oldest child, I’ve taken on the classic traits of a first-born (as revealed in many studies): responsible, achievement-oriented, conscientious. (So boring!) And as a child of first-generation immigrants, I had the strong values of  hard work and getting ahead bred into my bones. A vacation? A rest? You’d better make sure that the work gets done first.

So here I sit, by the sea. It’s beautiful, even if the weather is cool and cloudy. We’ve seen an otter play, then pull himself out of the water and run into the woods. We’ve seen a pair of loons, a pair of kingfishers, and a pair of pileated woodpeckers. A heron, surrounded by a flotilla of gulls, has stood in the shallows, waiting patiently for supper. A mama deer with her two tiny fawns walked across the neighbour’s campsite. A pair of merlins watched their fledglings go for maiden voyages overhead, screeching encouragement. An eagle dipped for fish before our eyes.

We notice that the trailing blackberries in the roadside ditches are ripening nicely. Our grandchildren roast marshmallows at the campfire. We read aloud to each other, discussing big ideas. I take the time to ponder the question of why I feel guilty when I’m not doing anything productive.

Do I deserve a vacation? Am I entitled? In that way lies madness. We don’t get what we get – good or bad – because we deserve it. This time of rest, reflection, enjoyment, play: it’s  grace, after all, a gift. And I will gratefully take it with open hands and heart, and enjoy.

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