Tuesday, December 07, 2004

One Year Off

If I had to name my five favorite activities in the world, included in that list would be reading, writing, and traveling. Two summers ago, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. While I must admit that a newly developed love for tennis hadn’t helped my situation, the main instigator for that alternately painful and numbing diagnosis was my writing. I grip my pen so tightly and press the point so firmly onto the paper that I have put holes in many an unsuspecting and undeserving journal page. I have ripped furrows in the margins of favorite books, and there are many grooves in my desk that will always remind me of enthusiastic notes and letters that I have etched over the years.

If asked what my life goals are, if asked what I would do if I were to win the lottery (which I am unlikely to ever win as I don’t play), if asked what I would do if some distant relative or generous friend died and left me a fortune, my answer is simple. First, I’d give some of it to family and friends in need and to some charities I respect. Then I would pay off our mortgage since that’s our only outstanding debt. Anything that remains would go towards travel. Leisurely (months at a time), luxurious (no tents or rustic cabins for this spoiled bunch), international (there’s a big, beautiful world out there that I’d love to see more of), and educational travel. I’d fire Steve from his job, put dust covers over the homeschool desk, pack our rolling bags, and take the Silvermine Academy on an extended field trip. We would start in South and Central America, as I have only seen Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro there, and both of those stops were far too well-planned for my taste. We barely saw any of “the natives;” it was all tour guides and bus drivers. Then we’d fly over to Spain to visit with friends and roam freely, frolic slowly through France, immerse ourselves in Italy, gallop through Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and all the other countries in between. We’d probably avoid the northern European countries as I avoid cold weather as much as possible – and I hear it’s ridiculously expensive up there. I guess somebody’s gotta pay to keep them all warm. We’d charge through the Chunnel, explore Great Britain for a while, hit a few Irish pubs, and then fly down into Africa. Wildlife safaris and photography would define our stay there. Off to Australia, up into Asia. I could go on. I would go on and on and on if I could. If only…

Reading fantastic travel books has had to bridge the impassable gap between my vivid imagination and the reality of my life. Unlike some friends and relatives who have enough money to retire right now but simply choose not to for reasons I don’t quite understand, we aren’t yet in a position to scrap it all and hit the road. But as my children pulled me out of the library last week, literally holding onto my already overflowing bag of books, I saw the ultimate “reality/fantasy/travel/adventure/sell it all and just do it” book I’ve ever run across. It’s called One Year Off. The editor of a successful publishing company, his wife, and their three young children, (9, 7, and 2 years of age!) sold their home, their cars, their stuff, bought round the world airline tickets, and took a year off. From California to Costa Rica to Europe to Africa to Australia to Asia and back, on camels and pontoons, in airplanes and armed vehicles, in tents and luxurious hotels, eating at street stands and in stuffy French restaurants, they stopped talking about it and made it happen. I have laughed, shaken my head in shock, and held my breath as David Cohen tells a fantastic tale of a dream come true. Yes, parts of his story are nightmarish, but most of it is the stuff of quixotic legend.

I simply cannot imagine what a year of travel with my husband and our two children would be like. First of all, I would insist that we not take along a lap top computer unless it was a tiny one that is used only for journaling and email. No Backyard Sports or Sims or Madden Football or Barbie or Mavis Beacon or Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego CDs. I would want us to figure out where in the world we were. I would make sure that ESPN.com is not accessible on our little laptop. The American sports scene would have to be temporarily blocked from the masculine conscience of my family. Sorry, guys, but Monday Night Football, sports reruns, and Olympic Badminton are off the agenda. I too would have to give up my addiction to Sabrina Ward Harrison and the Irish Jesuit Prayer webpage that leads me through such wonderfully calming and centering prayer retreats every day. It’s time to reacquaint ourselves with our own imaginations, to make up games as we go along, to just be. To be together.

We would pack lightly. The author of One Year Off describes his seven and nine year olds trying to wrest their large suitcases from between the trestles of the tracks of an oncoming train at a rural station in France. Often they had to travel in two cabs because they had too much stuff. He said one of their greatest regrets was carrying too much. One budget-busting story was of doing their laundry in Zurich; a single trip to a laundromat cost them $150. Not me; not us. Each of us would have a school size backpack and a single pull-behind bag. I know it can be done. I went to Spain this September for a wedding and ten days of gallivanting with exactly that much luggage. I was fine. And if I didn’t have to carry that puffy floor-length skirt and high heeled shoes for the wedding, I would have been more than fine. There would be journals for everyone, cameras in every bag (disposable ones for the kids), a light heart, a spirit of adventure, and a well-worn series of travel guides at our disposal. Actually, I wouldn’t even take whole books; I’d rip out the pages we’d need and leave the rest at home.

Someday I hope we will pack up, leave this all behind, and take a year off. In the meantime, we should probably start small. Pray for us as we are going away for one night this coming weekend; Steve sometimes snores and Kristiana tends to kick Daniel a lot when they are sleeping in the same bed. That year off may be a long time coming. Traveling mercies, G

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