Thanks to COVID, this past summer vacation was more “some-are vacation” – as in, “some-are” and “some-are not”. (If you like that, it’s yours.) But we did manage to get away for a week and a half with family at a friend’s lake-side cottage in Ontario.
Now, to me, “cottage” conjures up Yeats’ image of a “small cabin … of clay and wattles made” with thatched roof and rambling garden. This is a “cottage” the way Sir Laurence Olivier was an “actor”; eight-bedrooms for 17 people and four generations.
The experience left me wondering what I stories I should tell friends who couldn’t get away. Should I say how great it was, or spare their feelings?
Consider two scenes involving a kayak. In one, I’m out in the early morning mist: a Group of Seven experience. In the other, I swerve to avoid a water-snake, run into a submerged tree, capsize and spend the next half-hour trying to get back in. Less Group of Seven and more Wayne and Shuster.
Oddly, I’d be more likely to talk about the second one.
Is it just me, or do people feel they need to apologize for taking a vacation? Many people tend to accentuate the negative: “It rained one day on Maui” … “Agh! The mosquitos!”… “Talk about humid!” … or, as Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad about constantly hearing about Michelangelo while travelling in Italy, “Enough! Lump the whole thing! Say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo [sic]!”.
For me, otherwise wonderful, tale-filled trips have spawned “downer stories” like: getting robbed in London (1983); nearly losing my wife over a 30-foot embankment while mountain-biking at Lake Tahoe (2009); getting lost en route to a family dinner in Florence (2017); and both of us getting flipped dangerously by unexpected waves on Maui (2018).
Are we really sparing people’s feelings by downplaying our enjoyment, especially when so many people can’t get away due to COVID? Or are we being actually passive-aggressive, hoping for responses like, “well, at least you were in London/Florence/Maui/Tahoe”. Aren’t we actually saying, without actually saying it, “I had a vacation and you didn’t so yar-boo-sucks to you.”?
For a Christian, we’re supposed to promote hope in the face of tough times. Sharing good news, nice things that have happened to us, is a reminder to others that there is another side of this mountain we’ve been climbing, and we’ve seen it. Things will never be the way they were – and frankly, “the way they were” wasn’t all that great, was it? – so as we adjust to the “new normal”, we need all the good news we can get.
That includes saying, “It was a great vacation!”, so others can share that joy and find reason for hope.
And so … What I Did On My Vacation. A pale blue kayak glides noiselessly across a flat-calm lake; early morning mist sits just below the treetops; Pachelbel’s “Canon” plays in my head, as droplets from my paddle mark time. Suddenly, a cacophony of loons breaks the silence: ten of them, 50 metres in front. One by one, they dive and disappear; one pair stays above, “snorkelling”. Suddenly, two of the others appear noiselessly just behind me, and almost as suddenly the other eight surface together. They all cruise, silently, towards and past my friend’s cottage dock. I glide after them. Beautiful, eh?
The lake will still be there. So will the loons, jumping fish, misty mornings and kayaks to glide noiselessly. The pandemic will not. Stories like this can help us – and others – make it to that day.
Drew Snider is a former pastor at Gospel Mission on Vancouver's Downtown East Side, and has been a guest speaker at churches in BC. He writes about the people and events in his e-book, ‘God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty’. (available at online bookstores)
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