Mr. Kinsman, Headmaster of Saint John’s Church of England Infants and Juniors School, where I worked in England as a substitute teacheruntil he created a full-time assignment for me, confided to me once while driving me home – the man really liked me – that he had never taken a vacation.
He said he refused to take a vacation because of how terrible it would feel when he came back, willingly trading the “holiday” for “No letdown.”
At the time – me being 22 and Mr. Kinsman being 63 – I had no idea what he was talking about.
Now I do.
Call it “The Kinsman Malaise”, which he never experienced because he never took a vacation but which I’m now experiencing because I did.
In fact, two trips in just over three months.
And they were both really special.
Visiting Oxford University is not the same as being home. Banners decorating the parapets – actually there weren’t any – but there easily could be, heralding this glorious occasion. Every second at Oxford, I could not believe I was there.
Coming home from that “Trip of a Lifetime”, I am greeted with the pounding hammering of workmen, nailing a new roof directly onto my head.
Trip Number Two:
I return home from the Ranch… okay, I am already hearing, “You insufferable ingrate!” But, hey, feelings are feelings, and an honest chronicler needs to take notice.
“Does ‘taking notice’ necessarily mean writing about it?”
Now where was I? Oh, yeah.
I return from the Ranch. I have learned – or, more accurately re-learned (after my 37thvisit) what it takes to eat “perfectly healthy.”
Assiduous “portion control.” More fruits and vegetables. No sugar. No bread.
I return home to a, next day, belated party for Dr. M’s birthday. Suddenly, I’m wolfing down every course of Taverna Tony’s“Greek Banquet”and scooping handfuls of cake up with my fingers.
A personal promise to “eat sensibly”?
Obliterated in one meal.
It took me fifty years. But Mr. Kinsman, up in that Infants and Juniors Schoolin the sky?
I get it.
It’s hard to return to the mundane routine.
Off on some idyllic adventure? You come home to stacks of bills, and word that your corroded downspouts must be replaced. Sure, these nagging problems would have obviously found me if I’d stayed home.
But in the meantime, I’d been to Oxfordand the Ranch.
I try combatting the inevitable letdown, but it’s there. Affecting my mood. Affecting my writing. Affecting my workouts. This morning, on my way to 12 “biceps curls” in our outside “Exercise Room”, I stopped abruptly at 7, slogging surrenderingly back to the house.
“Malaise” had hit me, in “mid-curl.”
Yeah, I know the upside.
“Friends and family.”
It’s true. Friends and family are great. Not being at home, I’d have missed the look on Dr. M’s face when she saw the handful of “Surprise Pals” at her supposedly “Family Only” Birthday Celebration. And if I’d been away, I would never have known I could handle babysitting duties alone.
I studied political philosophy at the oldest English-speaking university in the world, and ate my meals in the hallowed “Great Hall.”
I am telling you.
In order to heighten my appreciation of the ordinary pleasures of everyday life, I have instituted an “Awareness Policy” I call,
“Play of the Day.”
Each day, as I pay consider life’s regular experiences, I anoint one of them, the one that comparatively stands out, “The Play of the Day.”
It doesn’t have to be big. In fact, that’s entirely the point – valuing miniscule moments in ordinary existence.
Just this morning, for example, I dropped a blueberry on the kitchen floor, and then found it. Now normally, I don’t. For me, anything falling on the floor – kitchen, bathroom, wherever – proceeds immediately to some parallel universe and I never see it again. On the rare occasion I do?
“Play of the Day.”
The approach seems to be helping. Noticing…
PHONE RINGS IN EARL’S OFFICE.
Sorry. I have to take this.
That was my daughter Anna. Commiserating with my “malaising” predicament, she cheerfully reminds me,
“Remember, Dad. (Our family Christmas trip to) Hawaii is just around the corner.”
I feel suddenly encouraged by this bolstering pep talk.
Look out, “found blueberry.”
We have a challenging rival for the recognizing award.
It is, ironically, about traveling.