In 2015, my husband and I bought a used RV and took our sons on a trip across the country that summer. For us, it was a huge travel adventure that took us way outside our comfort zone. We named our RV “Eleanor” in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do something every day that scares you” because, frankly, driving that RV every day scared us. As we departed for our trip, there was so much we did not know about what was around the corner, but we started down the road as that is all you can do when taking a journey.
Though road trips this summer may be canceled, we are all on a journey together as we weather the pandemic. I want to share a few lessons from our road trip that have helped me navigate this uncharted territory we find ourselves in today:
Choose your travel companions with care.
Fortunately, I enjoy spending time with my husband and children. We treat one another with respect, make each other laugh and genuinely enjoy being together. At all times, but especially now, spend time with people who fill you up with joy. Even when physically distanced, we can be socially connected to those we love. Set the lawn chairs six feet apart and invite over that person who makes you laugh. Have a video chat with your favorite relative or dearest friend. If someone is constantly bringing you down with complaints or negative comments, limit your time with that person. Share the ride with folks you like.
Expect the unexpected.
Months of preparation went into planning this expedition with routes plotted, reservations made, and books read. As much as we knew about what we wanted the trip to be, we also knew, from years of experience, that detours, mechanical problems, and bad weather could toss our careful plans right out the window. We didn’t foresee the broken generator or leaking radiator hose, but we did bring along cables, extra oil, a tool box and a AAA membership to meet these problems as best we could.
I thought I knew what this summer would be – travel to see family, hosting friends at the lake and attending my daughter’s wedding. All postponed thanks to a pandemic that we did not foresee. Life can change on a dime for any number of reasons – a global pandemic, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or an unexpected diagnosis. The tools we have to meet these are the many healthy and nurturing ways we care for our body and soul. A walk around the block and a bowl of fresh fruit can nourish you to meet the challenges of the day. A friend who listens, a spiritual practice that feeds you, spending time outdoors, words that inspire or a simple pause to breathe can fortify you for those moments when the unexpected arises. Strengthen what you have within yourself to be prepared for the unexpected that will come your way.
Accept the good AND the bad.
The gift of expecting the unexpected is acceptance. When the generator broke and we had to drive through a torrential rainstorm in Kansas City to get to a garage where it hopefully could be fixed, it would have been easy to cry in self-pity, get angry at my husband (because this trip was his idea) or feel defeated by this setback. What took courage was to accept that this had happened, without emotion or judgment, and stare it straight in the eye. That action brought calmness to what could have been an emotionally fraught situation and confidence that we would get through it. It also opened up curiosity about what could be learned from this.
Acceptance about the reality of our lives can bring peace of mind. As we make friends with what is happening, we can ease into letting it be and treat ourselves and others with more compassion.
If you don’t like what you see, change your view.
One of the many things our sons loved about the RV was the wide selection of seats. They could take the passenger seat for the expansive view of oncoming road or watch the landscape slip by from the side sofa or, their favorite, go to the back bedroom and wave at the cars behind us. It was easy to get the view you wanted. The same applies to life. You can’t change the past, most people, or the place where you find yourself today. But you can change your outlook and your attitude.
Once you accept what is happening, you can choose how you will react. You can be disappointed every day that your life isn’t the way it used to be. Or you can accept what is happening and choose how to respond. You can choose to use this time as an opportunity to learn about birds, pick up a musical instrument, get to know your neighbors, do the grocery shopping for a friend, volunteer at a food pantry or try a new recipe. There are plenty of ways to look at the world. Choose the ones that makes you happy.
Enjoy the joy.
“Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” Every evening on our trip, we would talk about what we were grateful for. Sometimes it was swimming in the Pacific Ocean or seeing the Grand Canyon or recalling a memorable meal of fresh oysters. Often it was the ordinary fun of a family card game or a funny comment or the beauty of the sunset. Throughout the pandemic we have continued this conversation. When we cultivate gratitude, we begin to see the world with new eyes. The pandemic has forced us all to slow down. Use this moment to notice all the good things in your life. What gets our attention is what our lives become.
As we came to the end of our 37 days, 8,870 miles, 13 states adventure, another Eleanor Roosevelt quote came to my mind: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Life would be easy if every day went exactly as you planned. It also would be pretty boring. Though we may not have asked for it, we are being given a new and rich experience. What lies on the other side of this journey is still unknown and is being defined by how we respond as individuals and as a community. We are all a part of this amazing road trip. Seek out opportunities, learn new lessons and find road trip tools that work for you.
~Linda Potter, Hospice Board Member