Across the pond
I've always been wary of vacations. What are we vacating, how are we doing so, and most importantly, why? If we "need a vacation" so badly, what exactly are we doing wrong?
I suppose, though, this is not the best way to approach something which is supposed to be either fun or relaxing, or the perfect combination of both.
I suppose I should gleefully anticipate holidays, whether they are to the sun or the sand or the ski or the multitudinous adventures to be had in lands far, far away.
I've been on many a vacation, family-oriented of course, to destination locations as near as North Carolina and as far as the Caribbean. My passport picture is appropriately hideous, and my luggage is obnoxiously Vera Bradley - I have all the makings of the perfect traveler. My late-in-life flying phobia precludes me from enjoying the scenery via the tiny glass window in the plane, but once my death grip on the armrest loosens and our plane lands, I'm ready to become the perfect sight-seeing tourist.
Until I step out of the terrifying vehicle of the air and rest my feet upon a place which is neither home nor alien but is certainly something, I cannot relax. I am supposed to be delighted I have arrived and looking forward to a week full to the brim with shrimp-peeling, rum-runners and snorkeling.
I've vacated my comfortably stressful, fatigued, often enjoyable college existence, for this? To be teased by the prospects of something which is neither familiar nor utterly alien?
I'm wary of vacations because I don't understand why I go. As much as I'd like to be one, I'm not much of a thrill-seeking escapist. Even during the most desperate times, the moments when taking a break seems so appealing, I don't want to leave my place of suffocating stability until I figure out just why I have to.
But I'm leaving this summer. I'm vacating. Touring, traveling, maybe escaping.
It's structured, don't worry. I'll be gone for four weeks from the beginning of June to mid-July. I'm going to London for an English program where we study London in the past and London in the present, and then, I'm presuming, we work to understand the meeting of the two.
I'm not wary. I should be, I should be having panic attacks about getting on a plane without having my mother's hand to squeeze for the entire duration of the flight. I should be tearing my hair out about planning what clothes, accessories and random accoutrements I need to stuff in my Vera Bradley suitcase for a month.
I've never taken a vacation of the mind, for the mind, for the soul. I've been on lots of trips where I've gone for the tan, the waves and the tropical drinks.
I've been on vacations where I've ostensibly gone for the sights, the sounds and the smells of a foreign atmosphere. I've been swimming with sting rays, I've helped with the lines on a sailboat, I've been bar-hopping with my little brother and I've done the cha-cha in the street.
But in the back of my mind, during every vacation, I wonder, why? Why am I here and not there, why do I need to vacate my life, the life I live for the majority of the year, to be able to experience happy, enjoyable, relaxing events? Why did I have to leave?
This time it's different. This time I have to leave. I don't know why, and I am not going to try to understand why because it will give me panic attacks and make me tear my hair out.
All I know is I have to sojourn to a place which is going to change my mind and my soul in ways the other 11 months of the year will not be able to.
I don't have any of the makings of the perfect traveler, not for this kind of trip. I'm disorganized, I've never been to Europe and my expectations always get the best of me. But I do have all the makings of a perfect wanderer. And that is exactly what I aim to do.
My mother emailed me this quote a few days ago, "We ourselves shall be loved and then forgotten," she said, quoting the playwright Thornton Wilder. "But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them."
I immediately tweeted this because it's beautiful, but also because I want it to matter. I want to fall in love with a world which is not my own. And I want that love to be enough. I don't want to have to answer all the what, how and why questions which plague my brain.
I want to wander and see and love, and I want to come back to answer the inevitable "Why did you go?" question with no other response than "I'm glad I went."
Mary Scott's column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.