Lessons learned from time off

The last 11 weeks have been…different.

For about seven weeks I was dealing with COVID. I ended up with some long haul symptoms – migraines, fatigue, fuzzy head. I’m grateful those are gone now. COVID is nothing to mess with. Besides a long battle and recovery with what the doctors thought was Ulcerative Colitis when I was 14, this was the worst thing I’ve had in a long time. And it helped me realize some things and taught me valuable lessons about myself too.

Right at the end of my dealing with COVID I went on a four week vacation. I’ve never done anything like that before. I saved up my entire year’s worth of vacation and used it all at once. And as a family, we did a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that only having four weeks of time could allow. Again, this time was helpful to me in many ways.

I want to share with you what I learned.

  1. My limitations. While I’m through the main symptoms of COVID, I’m still discovering other limitations. For example, on our adventure we did a lot of hiking. What I discovered was that I could not do two long hikes on back to back days. I was too fatigued too keep up without lots of breaks. Lesson learned. I don’t know if this is the new normal for me or just part of the healing process, but it’s where I am right now.
  2. I love being in beautiful nature. It is restorative and healing. But not just any beautiful nature – beautiful nature that is away from lots of people. The times I least enjoyed were the times when we were stuck with crowds in nature. It’s not that I’m anti-people. It’s more that the crowds were at certain locations for what seemed like frivolous things – getting a quick selfie/picture and moving on to the next must-see site to do the same thing. This is why I appreciated the hiking. It was our way of getting to places that were less crowded. And the people who went to these locations came with a different goal in mind – to be in nature. Sure, we all got pictures/selfies in amazing locations. But being in nature was the goal. If you ask people where they find a connection with the divine, the largest answer you’ll get will have something to do with nature. I think there’s a good reason for that. Being in nature reminds us that we are not in charge and that we are part of a larger ecosystem of life. It puts us in our place – much like the cathedrals on Europe were designed to do. The cathedrals are like nature in that they are full of mystery, they remind us of our place, and they will last far past us. There’s something holy about all that – whether we are talking about a building that is a cathedral, or a natural cathedral.
  3. Family. Our oldest daughter couldn’t come with us on our adventure due to her work schedule, so it was my wife and our three kids. We spent every waking moment together for just over three weeks. We dealt with challenges, had many laughs, camped, did amazing things (like hiked on a glacier!), ate together, and figured out how to get along in difficult times. Our family is a bit of old pros at this. We spent a year in Finland about 7-8 years ago and during that time we had to do the same things. And we are better for it. Now the kids are older (all teens), and it likely that this may be the last time all five of us adventure together. But we don’t know what the future brings, so we enjoyed the moment and each other.
  4. Disconnecting. I can’t tell you how healing it was to disconnect. I put an out of office auto-reply on my email. I changed my voicemail so it said that I would not be listening to messages until I returned. I didn’t respond to most texts (except for the ones that let me know that my phone had been hacked – I needed to let people know that I was not seeking out an amazon gift card for a person with cancer. These scammers stories are getting a bit over the top). I saw the news from time to time. But I just let it pass by. I needed to not engage with any of it. To not think about any of it. To not respond to it. To not talk about it. Because all that stuff is what drained me to begin with. We all need time away – I mean really away and detached as much as possible. All the junk will be there for you when you return. It is for me. It’s sitting waiting for me.
  5. I’m not sure what to call this. It relates to the last point. Maybe the closest term would be discernment. The time away has also impacted me, at least in the short term, with what I respond to. I don’t know what this will mean long term. Often when I write, it’s my opportunity to figure out and play with ideas. It’s a kind of therapy. I don’t really write for others, but really for myself. Which is why I’m often a bit shocked when people respond. The part I’m really discerning is about when people disagree with what I write. I’m not the type of person that needs to have everyone agree with me – I’m not writing for everyone else after all. It all just has me wondering why some people respond (and respond angrily) to what I write. It’s not as if my writing has changed a single situation in the world. Is my writing and playing with ideas such a threat that an angry attacking response is warranted? Doesn’t that really say more about the commenter than what I’m writing anyway? So the question is this – what do I do with such things? I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind. And that’s not the goal anyway. Maybe I’ll just respond with “thanks for reading and taking the time to respond.” I’m really more interested in working with people that want to work with me. Maybe the discernment is really about that – better discernment about who I can work with and be in relationship with.
  6. Adventure. Some people like to just sit and do nothing. More power to them. To each his own. That’s not us. We adventure. And boy did we adventure! We hiked tons of miles. We hiked in snow. We hiked on a glacier. We ran from a herd of bison (no we did not get too close, but they started running our direction). We saw bears and moose. We biked. We went to a hot spring. We had to come up with plan B while we were on our way to our first location (because of flooding in Yellowstone). We camped. We did stop offs, often unplanned. We discovered things that we didn’t know existed (like Craters of the Moon national monument in Idaho). We checked off bucket list items. This is what we like to do. It is life giving for us. And that’s what we need for this trip. Especially when there are so many life-draining things. I came back feeling full of life.
  7. Stuff. All we had was what fit into our car and the car-top carrier. We couldn’t fit anything else. Which also meant we didn’t buy much (except some sweatshirts, T shirts, prints to hang on our wall to remind us of the locations, and car stickers, along with food for the journey). For us, it’s the experience that we doing and paying for. It’s the shared experience.
  8. Peace. Again, I don’t know what to call this, so I’m calling it peace. Maybe it’s gratitude. Or both. It’s what I came away with from the vacation and the time with COVID. That might sound weird since the two are opposites. But in some ways, the adventure and COVID were similar. They taught me things. And they reminded me of my place in the world – just in their own ways. And for that I’m grateful.

I don’t know what our next adventure will be or for how long. I hope to not have to ever deal with COVID again though. Regardless of where we go, who comes along, or how long it will be, I know this much – it will be life-giving. It will an adventure. And will create memories and teach me things about myself and about life – things that I can’t learn anywhere else.

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