I am getting ready to go on a month-long trip. This will be the longest I have been away from my practice in over 20 years. It is also the longest I have been away from home since I was in college and spent what we called January Independent Study Term (JIST) enjoying a break from the classroom and joining our professors in studying or traveling somewhere with the sole purpose of experiential learning.
Truth be told, “sole purpose” can easily be replaced with “soul purpose”, since the term “sabbatical” arises from a Hebrew word shabbat (day of rest) and instructions from Leviticus to undertake a break every seven years (shmita). I intend to use this time away to slow down, recalibrate my body clock, and find a new pace that I will be able to sustain over the coming decades.
In looking back over the last ten years, I am amazed at how much of my life has been focused on health issues, managing my practice, starting new ventures, and learning to live my life as a widow. After my husband died, I had to manage financial challenges as well as emotional ones. I was blessed to have friends who gave me unconditional support and work that paid well and provided benefits. The price I paid, however, was to run my body into the ground. I have been in pain for the past seven years. Only now, after having had both my hips replaced, do I fully appreciate the degree of functional impairment I was dealing with.
It is now 2020. If my math is correct, that is seven years! I seriously doubt that I have a subliminal Levite calendar that notifies me when I need to take time away from tending the fields, but it is an interesting coincidence that in the last year or so I have somehow organized my life such that I have the means, the opportunity, and the physical health to take time away from my practice and do some soul searching.
I am traveling to New Zealand. This is one of my bucket list destinations. When I was quite a young child, I read “Erewhon” by Samuel Butler. At the time, I did not appreciate the work as the satire Butler intended, rather, I fell in love with the descriptions of the country and have wanted to travel to New Zealand ever since. Turns out Butler actually spent several years in New Zealand, and much of the book was inspired by his time
The trip itself actually came about while I was watching TV and caught an ad for a cruise to Alaska. This is another of my bucket list destinations. I called a friend who books cruises to see if she could arrange the trip. Instead, I got a call back saying, “How would you like to cruise to New Zealand?” That started the ball rolling. I looked at my calendar, decided that I also needed a couple of days in Hawaii as well as at least a week in Sydney, Australia, so I just went ahead a booked it.
This may sound impulsive, but it really is not. It is just the stars aligning with my desires and my letting go of all the “should’s” that have kept me from doing this in the past. It is also following the wise words of several of my close friends, all of whom are intrepid travelers, and who swear by travel as a way to stay engaged with life, learn new things, meet different people, and generally keep their brain cells firing at optimum levels.
I know many folks who have experienced modern-day travel as challenging. I used to have that attitude also, but because of the two years I spent flying around the U.S. lecturing, I learned a couple of tricks to better manage my frustrations. First and foremost, get to the airport early. Make sure you have TSA-Pre so you don’t have to take your shoes off or wait in long lines. If you can, just take a carry-on. That way you don’t have to wait to pick up your luggage at the other end. Finally, take something good to read and a battery charger. You will have to wait, so don’t sweat it!
While these strategies have been useful, what was the most helpful, inspiring, and pardon the pun, uplifting, was something my traveling companion to the Mediterranean said to me. She is a 70-something former Pan Am stewardess (flight attendant nowadays), who flies almost weekly around the U.S. and goes overseas when she can. She called me up before going on a trip and said, “I get to fly!” with such joy in her voice that I had to ask what she meant by that. I was used to the grousing, complaining, and generally negative attitudinal approach adopted by so many. But she reminded me of the awe that flying really is: an engineering marvel that allows us to break the bonds of gravity and see the clouds from on top, overcome the obstacles of time and distance, and transport us to a different spot on the earth, all within the comfort of a pressure and temperature-controlled conveyance that arrives safely, on time (mostly), and with some very handsome pilots to boot (I will own that sexist comment, but I am a sucker for a pilot).
I will reveal more about this sabbatical as the day draws closer to my leaving. In the meantime, thanks for reading!