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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

It's All About The Journey*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 1, 2010
as "It's All About the Journey"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

During summer, families traditionally take to the road for those two weeks of exploration and adventure we call “vacation.” For most, this involves choosing a destination. It may be Disney in Florida or California, a resort in the mountains, or a visit with family in another city.

When I was young, our family would take trips, usually out west. I generally don’t remember the destinations. What I do remember are the journeys.

Time has become a very precious thing to us all. For that reason, vacations are planned out almost to the minute. We approach them with a list of things we want to do and the days we want to do them. The schedule becomes so tight and frantic, that some of the fun and relaxation is drained away. This has led to the oft-voiced complaint, "I need a vacation from my vacation."

Between work, freelancing, church, and taking care of a 108-year-old-house, my life is more regimented than I'd like it to be. So when I go on vacation, it’s not just to visit someplace, but to de-schedule my life; take the time to relax and breathe a little. I have coined an oft-used (perhaps overused) phrase that describes my ideal trip:

“I have nowhere to be, and all the time in the world to get there.”

A few years ago, on the approach to the Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I realized that we had never been to Connecticut. So in an act of pure spontaneity, we decided to go. The only planned stop was Yale University. The rest of the schedule was, “let’s just head up that way and see what happens.”

It was one of the best trips we’ve ever had. Following whims and road signs, we saw quaint villages, covered bridges, a castle, a restored seaport village, and miles of beautiful countryside. One event sort of personified the whimsical approach to this trip. We approached Connecticut’s eastern end, nearing the state of Rhode Island . Both of us have on our bucket lists the goal of visiting all 50 states. Realizing that Rhode Island was still an empty checkbox, we drove the extra 30 miles to cross the state line, plus an extra 5 miles or so, then turned around and headed back. All just to be able to say, “Yes, we’ve been there.”

Silly? Probably. Some might call that a waste of time and good gasoline. But the pattern of my youth stays with me to this day. The greatest things about a trip are not seen through the windshield, but through the side windows. It’s not about getting someplace by nightfall, but the wonders we can visit during the day.

You know, it’s almost funny. When people do a European vacation, it’s all about the journey. You don’t go to London, Paris, or Rome, stay two weeks and go home. What makes the trip memorable are the side visits to Vienna, Palermo, Soissons, Bern, Amsterdam, Canterbury, and Inverness, along with all the places in between. Perhaps to stumble upon that one small village where we discover a family history we never knew existed.

But when we vacation here, in our own country, we pick a destination and ignore the journey.

One late summer evening, I was standing on a hill called Little Round Top, outside of the town of Gettysburg. I had spent the day touring the battlefield, and had come to this place to watch the sunset. Nearby, a young family had also climbed the hill. The silence of the evening was broken as their young daughter asked, “Daddy, what happened here?”

The father knelt down, put his arm around her shoulders, and thus the story was passed to a new generation; a story of heroism and sacrifice, and the salvation of her country.

That moment of quiet communion, of honest communication; the sharing between parent and child is one that will be forever remembered. For a family, that's really what this time called vacation is all about. It is something we lose when we’re so focused on destinations and schedules.

As families, there are so many things in our harried lives that pull us away from each other. Without realizing it, we become strangers living under the same roof. Vacation is the best time to reconnect; to restore and reenergize our relationships with those we love the most. It's the time to make those memories that will live forever.

Because of the many places we could go, the journey of our family is the most important one of all.
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