We need to get away from the routines of daily life, not only to help us appreciate what we have so as not to take it for granted, but also to help us experience the periods of insight that we simply may not experience otherwise because a life of routines will often hinder that. The pause from work that vacation represents is important for body and soul, and the longer the pause, the better. Insights begin to surface when one gets away from routines that dull the mind and soul. A week’s pause may help, but better still if it can be two or three weeks, because to disrupt routines, one needs a longer time away from them. It is only then that we can begin to understand that if the house is not in perfect order, if the refrigerator is a bit on the empty side, or if the laundry piles up a bit, that these are not crucially important to the quality of our lives. No one is going to pass judgment on us; we are often our own worst critics. It is better to spend time together with family and friends rather than worry about whether our houses are clean enough to entertain guests or whether there is enough food in the refrigerator to serve a three-course dinner to guests. It is often enough if a good conversation is accompanied by a cup of coffee; we don’t need to serve a gourmet dinner. I am not saying that we shouldn’t make the effort required to serve a nice dinner to those we love if we have the chance, just that not being able to do so should not be the determining factor for whether we choose to be together with them. Routines may be comforting because if we don’t want to ponder the meaning of our lives, we can use our routines as a way of not doing so. I know I enjoy many of my routines; I like the lack of personal involvement in connection with performing them. It takes strength to reflect on the meaning of our lives amidst the routines of our daily lives. It comes down to choosing to want to do that, to deciding what we will prioritize or focus on. I come back to this theme often, because I see that the choice can be as simple as a walk outdoors or a bicycle ride versus the mind-numbing viewing of yet another reality TV show that leads to the creation of a passive state inside of us. But it’s not always easy or practical to choose this, especially when we are tired.
Some of my own insights from this summer’s wonderfully relaxing vacation: I have been given many blessings, among them, the good fortune to have been born in a part of the world where women have the right to speak, to think for themselves, to work, to travel, and to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives. I know I am loved, and I know that I love. I have wonderful friends, who are there for me no matter what; just knowing that gives me joy and a peace that I cannot adequately describe. I know that absence can make the heart grow fonder; that we can appreciate our spouses even more when we are not always together with them. I can travel, and am always humbled by the unique beauty of each new place I visit. I always think that someplace else couldn’t possibly be more beautiful than the place I am visiting, but I am always proved wrong. I want to travel more in the coming years. I am looking forward to that. I have discovered that upstate New York is one of the most beautiful places I know of, especially during the hot summer months—lush, green, and if global warming continues—semi-tropical; perhaps I always knew this, but it’s cool to rediscover it. The Hudson River is a big, long, beautiful and winding river that beckons you to explore it; the best I can do is to photograph it and even then I could not capture its beauty accurately. I marvel at the miracle of plane flight; being on a plane can make me nervous (especially if there is turbulence), but mostly I cannot believe that I am experiencing something that my grandparents never had the opportunity to experience. Who was it that thought the first thought that made aviation possible? Or for that matter, who was it that thought to create the huge ferries (almost like cruise ships) that manage to sail round-trip from Oslo to Germany with cars and trucks on board and us sleeping in cabins on the floors above them? These forms of travel are safe for the most part; despite the global financial problems and cutbacks, maintenance of planes and ships is still prioritized, thank God. I appreciate the fact that I chose to work in science after choosing to study it in college; I continue to marvel at the natural world, at the odd plants that are found in far-reaching places like the Amazon (we can see them courtesy of the different botanical gardens around the world), as well as at the pigeons that sit outside my kitchen window each morning waiting for a handout, or at the squirrels who rob the bird feeder at my friend Jean’s house. I continue to be amazed at the foresight of some of the rich families in New York who contributed money toward the city parks and botanical gardens that enrich our lives. I am grateful for their philanthropy. I have discovered that the media in the form of newspapers and TV have lowered their standards in many countries, not just in my own; so that it is surprising when they actually step up to the plate and report a story responsibly. I remain appalled by how low TV programming has sunk in the space of a decade. And as far as understanding the meaning of my own life; I am beginning to see the contours and perspectives of my life in ways that I never did before. A certain amount of years on this earth will probably do that --give you those perspectives and allow you to see your ‘place’ in the scheme of things, in the course of history. I don’t know yet how I have contributed toward making the world a better place. Sometimes people tell you that your kindness or thoughtfulness meant something to them in a time of need. It’s good to hear that, because I know that the reverse is true—that I have been the recipient of the same in times of need. In the end, it comes down to love and faith, and strangely enough, for all the mystery surrounding both of them, if we have them, they make life easier despite the difficulties that arise in this life.