Four years ago I took my kindergartner to England to meet my college roommate and her family. The trip had been put on hold during the latest season of my then-husband's unemployment. While he wasn't working, I was banking the money we usually paid for our daughter's childcare tuition. It was a frustrating, worrisome time, but having the goal to travel gave me focus and a healthy distraction.
When we landed in London and were embraced by my friends, I felt the weight of all I had left behind. Unemployment, work stress, and family angst are heavy. You don't notice the weight as much when you carry it all the time. I noticed as I pushed through jet lag that I would think of these stressors and begin to pick them up like the luggage I had packed. And yet, someplace deep in my mind came a wise voice, “Those things cannot reach you here. They are an ocean away. Keep them there. Do not bring them into this space.” I exhaled and mentally set them down. Within a few days, I did not pick them up at all. I remembered the ocean separating me from my real life. I would smile and continue enjoying my vacation, my daughter, and the hospitality of friends.
In the two weeks we were away, I experienced true relaxation and refreshment. I had never felt so calm, so free, so peaceful--ever in my life. The trip was perfectly timed. I had needed the break from reality much more than anticipated.
We flew home. There was no longer an ocean separating me from the headaches of real life. When we picked up our luggage at baggage claim, I also lifted the other baggage that came with my life.
If you read this blog with any regularity, you know what happened next: our family trudged along for a while longer. And then unemployment struck for the umpteenth time, and I knew I couldn't do it any longer. So I initiated the dissolution of my marriage. The process finalized. I adjusted to having less time with my precious girl. I also felt a sense of freedom and peace. I felt weak and weepy, and then grew strong, confident, mighty.
Which brings us to this January. A friend I met through the Haven writing retreat invited me to spend the New Year and my birthday with her and her husband. I accepted her invitation and flew to South Carolina. In the space of their southern hospitality, warm temperatures, and views of the water, my body relaxed. Suddenly, I recognized this feeling. It was the “ocean away” sensation, only this time while there was an ocean involved, it wasn't separating me from my life. I breathed and smiled and talked and ate and relaxed some more.
I left their home five days later feeling a renewed sense of restoration and wholeness.
“You've got to find a way to achieve this feeling without having to go anywhere,” my friend suggested.
Two weeks later Mother Nature gave me the opportunity to practice that very thing. An ice storm was predicted. Schools announced their closings the day before. It was my daughter's weekend with her dad. I'd gone to the grocery in advance of the city's rush for bread and milk. I was set.
I left work early on Friday to avoid traffic and the impending ice. I mentally prepared to be iced in, and even when the storm didn't reach the predicted intensity, I stayed in. I walked to the mailbox three days ago--the last time I walked outside my front door. I haven't worn make up for three days. I mastered a balance of productivity and leisure. I finished three books. I sewed Girl Scout patches on my daughter's vest until my fingers hurt, and then I stopped and moved on to the next activity. I spent one entire morning on the phone with one of my best friends, and FaceTimed another member of my tribe twice in two days. I watched and rewatched the new season of Sherlock. I youtubed episodes of the Graham Norton Show. Running the dishwasher, putting away some Christmas decorations, and doing a few loads of laundry were crossed off the list.
As I sit typing, robe on, hair air drying from this morning's shower, I am ready to step back into all that real life entails for me: long commutes to and from work, more letters to write at work than I care to count, the health concerns of family and friends. I have had the “ocean away” experience in my own home, and it is glorious. I know how it feels and how to achieve it: Grant permission to not do anything. Go to sleep early (if you're an early bird, or late if you're a night owl), wake early with a open schedule before you. Congratulate yourself when you accomplish something on the mental to-do list. Congratulate yourself when you sit still doing and thinking nothing as well.
In these days of seclusion, I cleared off my desk, and bed, and the other surfaces that had grown cluttered with piles of paper and to-dos. The physical clearing had a mental benefit too. I saw my way back to writing every day. I opened a new document and typed: PAGE-A-DAY 2017. This post is day two.
This woman with prairie in her blood found the ocean she's been looking for. Turns out she didn't have to go away to find it.