Not too long ago my family took a trip down to Port Aransas for Labor Day Weekend. Cue “Vacation” by the Gogo’s: “Vacation, all I ever wanted. Vacation, have to get away…” Not kidding, I would literally sing it on repeat leading up to and on the trip itself.
Do you have a “thing” that you do with vacations? Always pack the same underwear? Always wait until the last minute to pack? Always buy a souvenir?
I sing a song to associate it with the trip. It either happens when planning, or over the course of the trip somehow. Sure, I re-use a song every now and then - “Vacation” is a go-to for obvious reasons - but for the most part, they are unique to the trip. I find music to be such an amazing tool to trigger memories. More than just helping you remember logistics like time and place, I believe that music can help you experience the same feelings again. As someone who struggles with memory, this is just one of many reasons I love music. It also might be why I end up associating a song with a trip even if it becomes slightly annoying to folks who are around me. I mean, I probably sang it at least 30 times both to and from Port A.
For a little context, my family loves a good group vacation. We don’t always get one every year, but it seems to have been more often than not recently and I am thankful for that. These trips serve as a great touchpoint for a group of about 11 who don’t get to see each other as much as we would like. We are able to check in with each other, catch up, and just exist around each other again - probably my favorite part of all.
The notable absences this trip were my older brother, Nathan, and his family of four. That’s because they live out of state and this one was truly a “weekender” after all. That said, we had my boyfriend and me coming out of Austin, my younger brother and his girlfriend out of Waco, and my parents and younger brother - along with two friends from college - coming down from Comanche.
Maybe it is because of the song association thing, but I tend to use these trips to backend through my memory to figure out something that was going on in my life at a specific time. Kind of like mental signposts. As a child that left home and changed - dramatically- in those years of being away, I am also sensitive to these gatherings. It can be at these moments when the dissonance between the person we were and the person we are becoming can be deafening. That difference between past and present can create a rift in the form of tension that can make things uncomfortable. While I now work to hold space for that discomfort - I find it isn’t there as much as present it used to be.
Just last year, I was concerned about the effects of bringing my boyfriend on our family vacation to Ruidoso. I know the burden of the rift would not be so strong as to cause a complete break, but I was worried about that discomfort. It never really presented itself though. From the moment I introduced him to my grandparents - we met with them at the beginning of the trip once we got there since we were the first to arrive - everything seemed so organic. That’s a testament to my family and my boyfriend for being willing to walk that path together. I could fill pages with words from that experience, but for now it serves as an example of how that discomfort can lessen over time.
In fact, I would say that now I enjoy the resonance that is created when the person I am fits so well with my family. It is a much more beautiful sound.
“Vacation, all I ever wanted…”
As someone who is somewhat interested in writing, I had a desire to see if I could utilize some literary imagery to make the beach and ocean at Port A beautiful or mysterious. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out - even with a few drafts - either due to my novice writing skills, or the fact that Port A just isn’t that beautiful of a place. Thinking back, I remember a lot of brown, a very specific smell, and moisture in the air.
One thing that Port A does deliver on is having an ocean with a beachfront. No matter what you have to say about its appearance, there is power in being next to a large body of water. If surrounding ourselves with family (chosen or genetic) has a grounding effect on our mental space, I believe that being next to a large body of water like an ocean can have a calming effect on our spirit.
There is something about the perspective we receive both consciously and unconsciously by being next to something so large, so vast, as an ocean. It’s a feeling we can’t get from land. I think that speaks to our capabilities as humans. Our control. Put us next to anything on land, and we know we can conquer it. But put us next to a vast amount of water, and we aren’t as sure. Our minds realize that we could get lost in the water a million times over, and that creates perspective. It’s in those moments where we “give up” the concept of staying in control and allow our spirit to tap into something bigger.
“Vacation, time to get away…”
We all spent the majority of our time at the beach which was only a short walk from the house we were staying in. After a few hours on the first day, I found myself to be the last one laying (dad jokes) as everyone had gone back to the house by around 3 pm. I welcomed the quiet and used it to get some beach reading in. The book that I brought for the trip was one I have been slowly wandering through for a few months now “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith*,” By Anne Lamott.
I quite simply love Anne’s writing. It’s been described as perfect proof that someone can be reverent and irreverent at the same time, and I’d agree with that description. Her book, Traveling Mercies is one of my favorites of all time, and a regular re-read for this guy who rarely reads.
I remember when I first started reading Anne, how foreign she seemed. How her use of profanity or history of drug and alcohol abuse were the furthest thing from what I wanted to experience as a “good Christian.” I remember how her radical views of self-acceptance - including the wrong, other, and rot inside of us - seemed too gross to be desirable. How her idea that truth, no matter where it is found, is just a form of Jesus waiting to be claimed which has led her to dread her hair at one point and spend time with hippies and Buddhists. I remember how her message that grace is like a fat man trying to ice skate sounded silly at first, but how over time and years of trying too hard to measure up, has become one of my most favorite ways to think about grace and self-care.
Visiting Anne this time was like visiting an old friend. She had some wisdom to share - like how we can either choose to be right, or we can choose to be kind - but also had some gripes to complain about as well. It was funny to read the book in 2019 because Anne whines a good bit about the Bush Administration as they were in the White House at the time of her writing. I just looked at the ocean and laughed.
“Vacation, want to be spent alone…”
There was a mass shooting in Texas while we were on the trip. I mean, it is 2019, so of course, there was a mass shooting - we’re almost up to one a day at this point.
I sometimes wonder how this time will be looked back on in the future. Obviously, they will know all the facts without the propaganda and misinformation - but will they be able to feel the paranoia? Will there be a song they can sing to help with feeling the stress we are feeling? I believe strongly that no matter your political beliefs, you feel some degree of tension or stress derived from current events. We can’t escape it - this shared anxiety in the pressure cooker that is America in 2019. We’re in it together.
“Vacation, all I ever wanted…”
On Saturday, August 31st, a lone shooter killed seven people and injured a total of 25 others in Odessa and Midland. It hadn’t even been a month since the shootings in El Paso killed 22. This also coincided with Texas changing laws on Sunday, September 1st to reduce firearm restrictions. These changes would notably make it easier to carry guns in churches and schools.
It has become commonplace to hear about a mass shooting and in August in Texas, it became the norm for our state in particular. Our response as a state has been to put more guns out there without any checks or regulations. Obviously, the new laws were set in motion long before the shootings on the 31st so they are not directly related, but the timing does highlight what is happening very starkly.
“Vacation, had to get away...”
On Sunday morning, after cooking breakfast for everyone, my dad surprised me. He sat down at the breakfast table with us and asked “What’s going on with this shooting and these new gun laws?”
Now, you have to know that my family has traditionally been politically conservative and religious. We also would ascribe to the traditional thought that it is not “polite” to talk politics so we don’t have a lot of success doing what my dad was proposing which was to have a political conversation. Mix that with our current emotions from the shooting the previous night - my hand started trembling when he brought it up in all honestly - and you could see why the odds didn’t look good for us to be able to come out the other side of this one feeling good.
To my surprise, we were able to have a rational and measured discussion. No one got overheated, no one went personal, and no one “othered” anyone. We each listened and shared our perspectives. We mutually agreed that something better could be done and we explored what that could be.
It was so refreshing and many of us commented on how it was nice to be able to talk about it. We didn’t solve everything - or anything - but we spoke our minds and listened to each other with loving ears and we felt better. Even for a moment.
As we drove back to Austin, I kept thinking about our conversation and how something that "shouldn't have happened" could be so grounding. It’s like the notion that “politics isn’t polite” is a message to avoid and run away from our experiences of the world around us which I'm learning only leads to hardship and ache.
While some of that ache is undeniably part of the human experience, it doesn't have to be our steady-state, and finding ways to ground us back to our authentic selves really can help.
Vacation, wish it would never end.
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