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Things I Learned in Europe: Part 1–Vacationing

September 8, 2009

About six months ago, my beautiful wife, Katie received an invitation to the wedding of her former housemate, Jo. Jo lives in the United Kingdom and roomed with Katie during her European-filled adventure in 2007-08; supposedly, Katie got a Masters degree in the midst of all of this 🙂  Anyway, the wedding was at the end of August, and the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect for us to go; my Master’s degree program would be completed by then. A few months later, Katie received an invitation to the wedding of her friend Vince, to be held two days after Jo’s wedding at St. Aldates, the church that Katie attended during both of her Oxfordian excursions.

So, long story short, we booked plane tickets from DFW to London Heathrow so we could be in Oxford and celebrate with these friends. Of course, Jo’s wedding was in Cardiff, where her family resides. While we were in England, I asked Katie if we could skip over to continental Europe and visit Spain, especially the Basque region, where I have a bit of ancestry. So before we knew it, we had concocted a two week European journey, visiting cities such as London, Oxford, Cardiff, Pamplona, and San Sebastian. Money was a bit tight, but we justified the trip by calling it our post-graduation/we have two masters degrees between us/we need out of Abilene/Happy First Anniversary trip.

The following ten posts are stories and reflections from our two week trip.

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Katie says that I don’t rest well. She shot down my idea of bringing my laptop to Europe, saying that vacations should not consist of work (my excuse for bringing it) and my obsession with ESPN. She’s brought my fidgety habit of always having to have something in my hands to doodle with to my attention on more than one occasion.

And she’s right. I don’t rest well. I enjoyed the helter-skelter pace of the graduate program I just completed; it kept me busy and gave me a sense of productivity and value. Katie constantly reminded me that “You’re not going to know what to do with yourself after you graduate”. Her voice of prophecy proved true in the weeks between graduation and our Europe trip; I tried to do as many things as I could, from reading all of the links in my daily New York Times email to keeping in touch with my fantasy teams to going to the gym to reorganizing our praise team ministry at Highland. And there was still a lot of extra time left. That freaked me out.

We left for Europe two Saturdays ago, and due to packing constraints, my form of entertainment on the eight and a half hour flight were my iPod, sans battery charger, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love”. I chose the book, and was invited into a journey that I longed for; a woman escaping from her painful, difficult love by traveling around the world for a year and attempting to find herself. (I don’t think I have the courage to do something like that for myself, but it was nice to vicariously experience her liberation.) On the plane, I read about the value of pleasure through eating in Italy, and when we traveled to and arrived in Oxford, I absorbed her thoughts on meditation and healing in India and Indonesia.

Reading

Monday, our third day in Oxford, we went to Blackwell’s, one of Oxford’s classic bookstores, and I bought three more books; through the rest of our journey, I read through Aravind Aviga’s “The White Tiger” and Thomas Kenneally’s “Searching for Schindler”. (I’ll write blog posts about these two books in the near future.)

(The picture, by the way, is in a charity shop in Oxford. I’m reading a book about Spain with our friend Jacque, who will be making an appearance in future posts.)

There are some things that are quintessentially American about me: I value productivity, efficiency, and quantity of things achieved. Slowing down for two weeks and engaging with three different authors and stories challenged my mind and my tendencies.  Historically, I have read strictly for academic purposes: so I can learn about a therapy model or theory, and in some capacity, because I have to. But I was reading for fun–I can’t tell you the last time that happened. I was reading with eagerness, yet gave myself time to critically think about the stories and themes in the literature.

OxfordSpain09 076

Slowing down: That was the theme of our trip (at least until the end, where we were moving on a daily basis from bed to bed). In Europe, the advancement of the mass transportation system is light years ahead. (It better be when you pay close to $2 a liter for gas.) Generally, people either utilize rapid transit or walk. When you’re used to driving around everywhere traveling at several dozen miles per hour, walking can be annoying and tiring at once. But walking also maintains a sense of presence; no matter how briskly you’re walking, your senses engage with your surroundings: the sights of the verdant parks or archaic, story-filled buildings; the sounds of bells gonging signifying a new hour. Admittedly, I was a little cranky during the first few days of this type of lifestyle, especially during our shopping day, in which I was asked to really slow down. But at the end of our first full week in Europe, I felt a lot more relaxed about life in general; I wasn’t worried about the impending vacuum that the whereabouts of our future, or with the stressors of school or work.

OxfordSpain09 059The first, and perhaps most profound thing that I learned in Europe is that vacation and rest go hand in hand. Resting doesn’t necessarily mean a complete ceasing of physical activity, although the Spanish seem to be perfectors of this idea through the concept of siesta. Rest in vacation involves giving up control and the anxiety that comes with to-do lists, deadlines, and having to be everywhere and everything. Rest accepts and works in the middle of the unexpected challenges life throws at us, as Katie and I did (as seen in this picture) when we sprinted through the middle of Oxford to escape an English afternoon deluge.

The difficulty with this topic of vacation and rest is that vacations are periods of time designed to achieve rest. In fact, Westerners attempt to use vacations as a time to binge and catch up on rest. My prayer is that we will become better vacationers regardless of location; that we can take time to escape from the toils of efficiency and productivity, giving up control so that we maintain presence with our surroundings and Maker and become rejuvenated. What are some daily vacations that you take?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Judy permalink
    September 9, 2009 6:31 pm

    I’m proud of you Jeremiah! And very glad that you are learning about slowing down.

    Mom

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