This past summer I planned to take about three consecutive weeks off in July to give my two young children a “proper” summer break—their first, as they’ve been in the daycare/preschool system since infancy. In my head, this time was going to be a relaxing, recreational romp—time for bonding, time for playing, time for lots of nothing-ness.
A few things happened in reality, though, that shook me out of my reverie. First, some exciting but unexpected work obligations disrupted the expanse of uninterrupted time off, making it more of a “Let’s Play! I have to work. Let’s Play! I have to work.” kind of summer break. Second, I scheduled the heck out of every day that we did have together, so the idea of rolling out of bed with nothing more to decide than whether to go to the pool or the playground happened exactly once. Finally, my visions of bonding and loving peaceful togetherness were… Well... Let’s just say those days were absolutely delightful. And they were also hard and long. And hard. And long. Stay-At-Home-Parents—I bow to you, truly.
There was nothing at all bad about the summer. It was quite wonderful, actually. It just barely resembled the summer I had envisioned in my head. It reminded me of something Gertrude Stein once said: “Whenever you get there, there is no there there.” There is no there there.
There really rarely is, is there? The vacation, the job, the relationship, the city. Our pre-conceptions are no match for reality. The “there” that we imagine crumbles away like sand in our hand when we are in the midst of the actual “there.” And more importantly, there is no destination, while we’re living, that is a stopping point or an end. There is no there there because there is always another there there followed by another there and there. Know what I mean?
In other words, when we put our hopes into one singular “there,” we can find ourselves disappointed or restless or left feeling somehow unsatisfied. But if instead we can just follow the journey wherever it may lead, well, I think that just might be the secret to living in the present.
This thought is helping me navigate some current work challenges right now, too. When I find myself getting stuck on a “there” that I’m expecting, some outcome I have pre-conceived to be the “right” one, I’ve started trying to remember that my “there” is really just an illusion— and that while I can’t necessarily control the actual destination, I can definitely control my enjoyment getting there.
Are you stuck on a there that you expect to find there?
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