My Bags Are Packed

One of the things I love most about traveling is that it gives me fresh eyes.  Seeing Notre Dame, Diamond Head, the grass courts of Wimbledon, or even THE Saks on Fifth Avenue for the first time is seeing with fresh eyes.  The first time, we have no stories to attach to what we’re seeing, so there’s no judgment.  For the most part, we are caught up in the moment and begin creating stories about that moment as a way of remembering it.

I’ve also found another way travel gives me fresh eyes.  When I come home after being away for a few days, I see my home a bit differently.  I don’t automatically see the places where the white paint is peeling off the picket fence, and my eyes don’t focus on the fact that a palm tree in the backyard has died.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder by blurring the imperfections for a day or so, mostly because I’m happy to be home.

My kids might argue the opposite.  I’ve been known to come home from a trip, eye the sofa suspiciously and say, “Why are the sofa cushions turned the wrong way?”  Or “The chairs around the pool are rearranged.   How many people were over here?”  Yes, I realize that sounds crazy.  But several years ago, I came home from a trip to find cigarette burns on the cushions of my porch furniture.  On another occasion, I found a window with a hole from a BB gun.  Once, my little dachshund Laverne greeted me at the door barking furiously.  She kept running to the stairs, then back to me, obviously begging me to follow her. “There was a party here, and you’re not going to like what you see,” she seemed to be saying.  She led me to the guest room, where I immediately saw that the bed’s decorative pillows were not arranged the way they had been when I left.

When my son came home, I asked him about the party.  He started to deny it, then stopped when he realized I knew.  “How did you know?” he asked.

“The dogs ratted you out.”

So travel gives us fresh eyes in a couple of ways.  And I discovered a third one this week.

I live in a tourist town.  In addition to having great beaches, St. Augustine, Florida, has the distinction of being the nation’s oldest city.  It’s full of treasures for history buffs like the oldest schoolhouse, the Fountain of Youth (the spot where Ponce de Leon is said to have landed when he arrived in Florida), and the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

Last month, St. Augustine got another huge tourist attraction.  A replica of a Spanish galleon, one like Ponce de Leon sailed to the coast of Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth, docked next to the Bridge of Lions in the city’s bayfront.  El Galeon will be here at least through the city’s 450th birthday celebration in 2015, and it could be here permanently.

The ship is huge.  And it’s beautiful.  And it’s so big that it has literally changed the skyline of the city.  Because things look different when I cross the Bridge of Lions, El Galeon’s presence has literally given me fresh eyes for my town.  It’s made me see the familiar through the eyes of tourists, those seeing it for the first time.

It reminds me of a story my friends Jeff and Jamie tell about an older gentleman they know.  The man and his wife were staying at an expensive hotel in Washington, D. C.  He was sitting on his balcony smoking a cigar and enjoying the view when the concierge called the room to ask how they were enjoying their stay.

“It’s lovely,” the man said.  Then he thought to ask, “How much am I paying for this great room?”

He listened quietly to the man on the other end of the phone, said goodbye, then set the phone down and turned to his wife.  “Miss Mary,” he said, “Pack your shit.”

I know that what is familiar is comforting.  But I wonder what would happen if we started seeing everything in our lives with fresh eyes.  What if we saw our lives as though we were experiencing them for the first time?  What if we poured a vat of white-out over the stories we’ve created about our families, our homes, our pets, our neighbors, even the gas grill with the pesky pilot switch?  In other words, what would happen if we packed our shit and just decided to enjoy everything about our lives?

I need some fresh eyes.  My bags are packed.  And the dogs are getting ready for party patrol.


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