Friday, February 21, 2014

Becoming Ourselves

"It's a curious thing that happens. It's only when we travel to a place where no one know us that we become most ourselves." 

How I wish I had written those words, but alas, those words were written for the genius advertising campaign of the Michigan Tourism Department. Inviting scenes of the Michigan coastline slow-dance across the screen while the calming voice of Tim Allen speaks the words that point straight to our heart. We let out a long sigh, in complete understanding of the sentiment, and feel a sudden connection to the northern state, yearning to visit this enchanting place. As the commercial ends, we feel that Michigan understands us. Michigan knows how we need an annual vacation to restore our soul from our year-long tussle with the real world. Yes, Michigan gets us.

The grayness in the trailing days of winter always stirs the desire to plan a summer vacation, and this year is no different. Sure, jetting off to a tropical location is intriguing, and not out of the question, but a road trip is what shakes me to life after a long winter. Driving across unfamiliar territory is just as rejuvenating as the chosen destination, if the mind is indeed prepared to experience the serendipitous rewards of the open road. When I hear someone complain about a long drive to _____ [insert desired location here], I honestly do not understand the dislike, thinking they must be doing something wrong. The isolation of the vehicle as it passes along the highway is a prime location for listening to great music, engaging in interesting conversation, enjoying audio books, or (my favorite) easing into reflective thought. The journey becomes quite the journey.

By the time I reach the destination, my mind is already relaxed, allowing receptiveness to the restorative power of said destination, which is the point of a vacation, isn't it? And what about the destination? I have never been one to travel to traditional tourist spots, opting instead for overlooked gems cast off by the masses. Not that I would poo-poo a trip to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or Paris or London, no, I simply find respite in the quieter, less trafficked places of this earth.

It is in these quieter places where we can hear our soul speak to us, begging us to remember who we are at the core. Those are the moments when I become most like myself, unaltered by societal constraints or familial expectations. It is here, when the negative voices in my head are silenced, leaving only my true voice to be heard. Yes, only I go where no one knows me do I become most myself.

As I begin planning my trip, I cannot help but remember a few of the unexpected moments of past travels, ones that would have been missed had I chosen a conventional buffet-laden vacation of all inclusive packages and group excursions. No amount of money could tempt me to trade the laughter shared with my friend Georgia as we drove a 20-mile dirt road through the Navajo Reservation in a pouring rain, while I wondered if I would have to learn to herd sheep should we not emerge from the ordeal. All the gold in the world would not be worth more than the experience of standing at a window on Ellis Island, envisioning what my grandfather must have felt as he looked at the same sight 86 years before. And no words can adequately convey the utterly magical feeling of gazing across the blue mystery of Lake Superior and feeling the indescribable sense of being understood.

These unplanned, unexpected moments only occur when we are out of the confines of normality, out of our routine. These are the moments which add sweetness to life and reconnect us to our core. Only when we travel to where nothing is familiar do we really see ourselves--uncluttered by the noise of our daily lives--and we are introduced to our true selves again. I look forward to the planning every year, careful to include new places along with old haunts, time for new activities and time for nothingness, always anticipating the surprises that inevitably occur as my true unencumbered self emerges to experience the complete restoration given by a summer vacation.
After we completed the 20-mile dirt road, we were greeted by this incredible blue-gray sky over Window Rock, Arizona, a sight so dramatic with color that no photograph could do it proper justice.


  1. The memories we have made together from Dallas, Four Corners. NY to your home state I will always treasure! Plus the fun of planning our next excursion makes my heart beat with a smile. The one thing that will always weigh on my conscience is not turning around for that poor one legged man walking on the side of the road in the hail near Ft. Defiance, AZ. The fact that the car heading his direction braked and we thought they were going to stop for him doesn't help! I guess we all have that one thing that we regret, this is mine.

    1. I think of that man often, Georgia, and wonder what experience we may have missed by not stopping. It weighs on my mind, too. I think we we so shocked to see him, we had a momentary lapse. One thing is sure: we always make memories on our trips!


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