After a wonderful and restful vacation with my dear family, and with my homing instincts kicking in now, these past ten days have really reminded me over and over again of an incredibly important lesson that I want to carry with me in my day to day, beyond the ease of this mindset while on “vacation”: We’ve got this one life. Live it. Pay attention. Enjoy each day that you are given, it is a precious gift.
Because wherever we go, there we are…Even if we weren’t necessarily planning on spending time at an interstate rest stop in Alabama building fairy houses and foraging ripe persimmons from the native flora, that’s where we were, and by golly, that’s what we did. (I also love the thought that the children’s fairy house creations might give some other weary travelers a mental break from the map and the odometer, offering a curious breath of fresh air.)We were planning on spending many glorious days in the sand and sun at the ocean, riding the waves and chasing crabs, finding beautiful shells and feeling the salty sea air in our faces. We watched the sea birds feeding on boiling, writhing swarms of minnows in the surf, which the Fishermen Smiths quickly learned indicated the presence of bigger predatory fish, which also meant supper was just a cast away. These moments were part of the plan, and obviously appreciated and enjoyed.And then there are family dynamics to navigate. Even on vacation, and at times when I honestly feel like there should be no reason for squabbling, there I am, diving into the murky waters of a parent’s obligation to mediate. It isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, as those of you with families of your own certainly understand. At times, these moments can truly cloud my efforts to embrace where I am in that moment; being “there” can be painful and frustrating. But sticking my head in a hole for avoidance isn’t really the best example, so I ride the waves, hoping the wind will shift and the turbulence will calm. Pulling a rabbit out of your hat often works miracles, too, just in case you were wondering. On one of our last days at the beach, I was summoned by a young fellow down the beach a distance, giving broad, sweeping two-handed waves in my direction. Once he had my attention, he pointed out into the surf, where in between swells a man’s head would emerge and then disappear as the waves passed over. While the man was not flailing or yelling for help, it was fairly obvious he was in trouble: In over his head, you might say. As a simple matter of human instinct, I ran down the beach and entered the water. The waves were fairly big, and the under current quite strong, and my lifeguard training of 25 years prior never included surf rescues. But there I was, heading out to lend a hand to a complete stranger, an older hispanic fisherman that I didn’t know and that I most likely will never see again. I had a moment of wavering panic as the thought of my three little children, watching from the beach, passed through my mind. What am I doing? But each life is valuable, precious for it’s own reasons and in it’s own ways. And my life would have been forever haunted if I would have stood by, doing nothing. I then realized that my ever-faithful husband was also heading out into the surf (later admitting that he couldn’t bear the thought of my going it alone), bringing my courage and resolve to save a man’s life back in full force. Working together (and eventually joined by a third beach-goer), we pulled the man to the safety of the beach. Thank heavens the man was calm, because I’m pretty sure I would not have had the strength to wrangle a drowning man while navigating the powerful ocean. The fisherman was fine, just seemingly tired and thankful to be on his feet again. Given the language barrier, our conclusion was that the man did not know how to swim but had been fishing enough years that the ocean was familiar to him. He just got swept out by the strong undertow. I wasn’t planning on helping save another human’s life that day, but there I was. And I am so glad I was there, in that moment. And now, here we go on the road that leads home. Many miles have yet to be traveled, many moments have yet to be lived. But even in my eagerness to return to my home sweet home, I vow to be present at each stop along the way. I vow to be wherever I am.