Dave and I returned recently from a six day trip to Rhode Island. It was lovely, but arduous, more an adventure than a vacation.
We experienced many challenges just getting there: torrential, visibility-destroying rain across the entire state of West Virginia; Manhattan traffic; and three hours of bumper to bumper creeping across Connecticut. We thought we'd arrive at our destination at 6:30pm. We didn't make it until 10:00pm. So much for getting pleasantly settled in.
Once we did finally make it to the B&B I'd booked, I was disappointed. It wasn't as well kept or decorated as I'm accustomed to for that mode of lodging. But I knew I wasn't in great shape for accurate perceptions after two days of difficult travel. I cemented no judgments. Instead I focused on the cool breeze and lapping water sounds wafting in through our window and the view from our private deck overlooking the bay that takes up one third of the state. Then I got a good night's sleep.
As I expected, the next morning, sitting in the dazzling sunlight watching dozens of swans bobbing gracefully on the water only feet away while we ate a three course breakfast delivered to us by the very sweet innkeeper, it all looked a bit better.
While Dave was in the stone carving workshop that caused the trip, I was free to tour around. I thought for sure that this was where it would all turn around decisively. Unfortunately, I chose to visit three of the most tourist-mobbed destinations in all of Rhode Island. They were so packed that I didn't even feel up to trying to find a parking place in Jamestown and Narraganset or agreeable to paying $15.00 to $20.00 for one in Newport. I ended the day disappointed, even though I'd also helped Dave do the one other thing he wanted to do while in the area--find H. P. Lovecraft's grave. He was experiencing satisfaction. I was still waiting.
I've learned not to sing along with negative feelings every time they appear. The bonus of gaining the wisdom that I am not my feelings means that even when I experience them (the negative ones that is--the positive I'll gladly own), I know that they can and will change. Many an experience starts out rough and ends happily. I was sure that I'd be blessed with that transformation eventually. Until then, I reminded myself that it was OK for this trip to not be about me. When I have traveled with my son to major league baseball games, my personal preferences have been second tier to making a memory and a dream come true for my young man. Surely my husband deserved no less consideration.
So many times I've come up against this grasping, which is really based in fear that I won't get what I want. As I recently did on my clouded shopping trip, I let my agenda go and waited. Dave kept apologizing, feeling badly that I wasn't enjoying this trip that he felt responsible for, given that his workshop was the impetus. I kept telling him not to worry about it, and I meant it. Having bad feelings arise, more out of habit than anything else, and buying into them can be two different things. I still felt sure that the experience could turn around at any time.
The second day, after counsel from locals, I found my personal state of vacation while Dave was tapping away at slate. I went to the little bay side town of Wickford and strolled a shaded street lined with colonial houses so venerable that they all bore plaques noting the date of their construction and the name of the builder. I prowled in a few charming shops and found the perfect souvenir, then cached myself on a vine bowered bench to watch the tourists and find the poem in what I saw. Scribbling in my Moleskine, I felt like a real writer, which was wonderful in itself. Over lunch, sitting by a breezy window held open by a tall jar of sea glass, I felt inspired to jot a few more lines. My little visit lasted only two and a half hours, but it was all I needed to feel that the trip was complete for me. I note that, as so often happens, I got what I wanted when I was quite through with trying to insist on getting it.
Yet, it got even better. I bought chocolate sea salt caramels made on the premises of another small town's shop on the way to pick up Dave. Then I took him back to my new favorite Rhode Island town to enjoy the peaceful sights and a good, affordable dinner on a breezy dock with a view of boats in the harbor, after which we shared my precious and highly sufficient chocolates. We ended the day reading peacefully on our deck as the light slid away and delighting in a fireworks display put on across the bay after dark. All was righted, as I had known it would be.
Well, there was the trip back, with multiple (I lost count after four) traffic slow downs and torrential rain in West Virginia AGAIN. But there was also an easier route past New York City recommended by the locals that yielded a bonus for Dave of lunch in Sleepy Hollow, and the lovely room and delightful innkeepers in Pennsylvania.
Oh, I almost forgot the news of the cat sitter's spill down our steps, which caused us some guilt. But that didn't matter in the long run either, since there was no serious injury. Life rolls in waves that we label good and bad. It just doesn't pay to get too upset about, or by, any of it, if we can at all help it, for the bumps in the road are neither the journey nor the destination. They undeniably exist but aren't worth remembering prominently.
When I look back on this trip, I'll remember the driving hassles and brief disappointments, but I want to highlight the pleasures: morning sun more brilliant than I've ever seen before; the rippling shadows on the ceiling cast by lapping water; graceful swans resting confidently on the deep bay; the sounds of children playing in the evenings as we read quietly; the most successful mix-and-match travel wardrobe I've ever been able to assemble; the kind of innkeeper who has to hug you when you leave.
When I let go of my expectations and insistence, some very "imperfect" people, places, and times can be deeply satisfying. Inconveniences and disappointments will arise, but so will sufficiency. I just have to be like the swans we watched--unruffled and graceful, trusting buoyancy, riding the current but never swept away.