I think there is something about American culture that decides that we need to constantly move or we will die like a shark. Day to day life consists of work, home, sleep. All with little to no time (or money) to get out and enjoy life. We are told from a young age that getting a good job and work is one of (if not the most) important things we will ever accomplish. Along with that comes a numbness brought on by stress. We never stop to truly appreciate our lives because we are so busy wishing for just a quiet moment.
And that is where a vacation can save your life. Over the Memorial Day weekend my wife and I (sans the little one) joined six of our friends to rent a lake house up in Canandaigua Lake in New York. Since my daughter was born, my wife and I have had very little time away from home and time to ourselves to reconnect. We were both extremely excited to get away, even if it was just for a few short days. So, early Friday morning, my wife, one of our friends, and I drove up. The ride itself was unusually beautiful. We drove through the giant rolling mountains of Pennsylvania and finally into New York state, which we eagerly looked on to the wineries and scanned the landscape to get our glimpse of the lake. We waited and held our breath over every hill in anticipation. We were all giddy with excitement when we saw it. But that didn’t prepare us for the lake house.
When we arrived at our destination we drove down one of the steepest hills to the house. And that is when time stopped. We all walked out onto the open porch and just stared out. The lake was breathtaking. Enclosed by a wall of mountains, the lake was wide and expansive. It was like looking out to the ocean where there is nothing but a haze of the horizon. A giant pine centered the beach are and led out to the dock. As I walked down towards the water’s edge and out onto that dock, something within me changed instantaneously. It was like stepping into an old mind and body. One that I had once but lost along the way. We didn’t speak we just stared off. And as we did all of the worry and stress of day to day life fell off like old skin, and was replaced by the wide-eyed wonder of how beautiful the world can be. Soon, couple by couple, our other friends arrived, and we watched them all go through the same metamorphosis as well. You could see it in their eyes and faces. I went to work immediately building a fire pit and preparing for what would be the start of a brand new me.
I built the fire to where it was roaring and soon was grilling dinner for everyone, as we all drank and laughed, and stood awestruck by all the beauty that surrounded us. My friend Will and I discussed the importance of the fire. How it was symbolic almost of what we were going through. It was primal and wild just as we had left behind our technology and typical work; this was like stepping back into a different age, and the feeling of creating something so simple yet essential with our own hands gave it more meaning than it would at home.
The guys stood on the bank of the lake and skipped stones for what could have been an hour. I couldn’t tell you the last time I skipped stones, but there was something so enjoyable in that simple activity that it plastered a smile on my face. Some of us went out in the canoe, some started conversation, some just stood and looked. And it felt like harmony. A small novelty creature became dubbed ‘The Finger Lake Freak’, and a new folk lore was borne between us. But this was nothing compared to what the next day brought.
Saturday took us on a tour of the local wineries. The men all in shorts and polo’s or button-ups, the women all stunning in dresses. We spent the afternoon laughing and enjoying ourselves. A real connection. We talked without texting or sending a note on facebook. We were in the moment and not outside ourselves. When we got back to the house we were all ready for another fun night. My wife and I spent time sitting together on the porch, just taking it all in. We’ve been married going on 7 years and we were seriously acting like we were dating. It was so nice for us not to just be ‘mommy and daddy’ for awhile and to just be together in that moment means more to me than anything. I’ve always loved my wife and with her here, I fell in love all over again.
If anything could describe that night it would be one word: Serendipitous. Like a carefully constructed puzzle, each piece was laid down perfectly to create one beautiful moment after the next. Once the fire was roaring again, Will and I played guitar and sang underneath the stars, as the group joined in. Whether it was ‘Moondance’ or a spirited version of ‘Hit me Baby One More Time’ or the full out vocal trumpet bridge of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off of You’, it was absolute perfection. Soon the drinks were flowing and we moved up to the guest house (dubbed ‘the Party House’). With the music playing; we all were enjoying ourselves. And then a song came on and something amazing happened. An impromptu dance party around the pool table. Everyone joined in and it happened out of nowhere. We didn’t decide to do it, it just moved us. I don’t dance outside of the privacy of my house, but I couldn’t (and didn’t) want to stop. The music just took us all and I’m smiling right now just thinking of it. I mean who can’t help but dance to this!
Later that evening as we were walking down the trail between the houses, some of us stood transfixed. The path was broken by a handmade fence up the hill and directly across from us was a giant crescent moon that was quickly slipping beneath. Its loud orange glow reflected off the lake and then was gone. And when it was gone it was nothing but stars. I grew up in the country so I was lucky enough to appreciate them as a child. But as an adult we live in an area where the night sky is polluted that only the brightest stars are able to be seen. This was so different. It was a true blanket of stars, like it had burst above our heads. We all stared up from our lawn chairs after making S’more’s with the biggest Marshmallows ever created.
The next day saw the girls have their time out and the guys stayed home. I can’t speak for the girls, but for us it was the perfect afternoon. We did absolutely nothing of substance. We found out it’s hard to row a boat with a rake, and that sitting around a fire in the afternoon is just as good as the night, but it was exactly what we all needed. Just to take the time for nothing at all. That night was just as fun as the others. We stayed up later than we did any of the other nights, knowing that tomorrow we would have to go home. It was around 2am that I put out the fire for the last time. I looked up at the stars again and it was bittersweet. The next morning flew by so fast and soon we were back home. Back in the swing of things. But I took a lot away from that trip that I hope will stay with me for a long time.
I learned that sometimes, regardless of where you are, you need to step back and really appreciate what is around you. I spent so much time up there just looking, not even thinking, but taking it all in for what it was. I learned that even though life is filled with responsibility it is just as important to be a little crazy and wild sometimes, even if it is just dancing in the kitchen. I learned that getting too wrapped up in entertainment is bad as it creates something telling you what to enjoy not finding or making it yourself. I live with a chronic small intestine issue that I’ve dealt with since birth which causes me a lot of pain, but for the first time in years, I felt normal and good and that in and of itself was a blessing.
I was also reaffirmed about the importance of friendship. We all bonded on this trip. I know the rest of our friends must be sick of our inside jokes, and even me writing this can’t really convey how important or special this vacation was. We all now are committed to making this an annual trip and even though we all live in different places we will always share these experiences. To Will and Megan, Ian and Jen, and Kristin and Adam, I want to say thank you for making what was the first best vacation I’ve been on and thank you all for the memories, laughs, and fun. I learned again just how much I love my wife and how lucky I am to have her in my life and just how important life can be.
And when it comes down to it, a vacation really can save your life. Because it reminds you that you have one.
Photos by Kloipy (Seth Dombach) and friends