423. Vacations

“Vacation” comes from a Latin word that means “empty.” As a child, as an employed teacher, and as a parent of young children, I usually looked forward to vacations. That’s pretty common. The kind of emptying that goes on during vacations is often quite pleasant, and the parts of people’s lives that are temporarily emptied often get temporarily filled up with great stuff – trips to fun places, chances to pay more attention to items that are usually neglected, or sometimes, for some people, even time to exult in having nothing to do.
Now, as a volunteer who lives alone, vacations don’t mean what they used to mean. It does mean that I get to spend time with my friends; they can visit me, because they don’t have to go to work. But I’m also occasionally reminded of another aspect of vacations – one that used to bother me sometimes when I was a child. School and work are things to do. They provide reliable structure in the day and week. Even if the time we spend at work and in school isn’t reliably pleasant, at least we know where we’ll spend it, what kinds of things we’ll do there, and who else will be there.
As parents and former children, many of you probably know how eagerly children look forward to vacations. They don’t necessarily focus on what they’ll do during vacations; some focus on what they won’t do – go to school. They assume that fun will fill in the void created by lack of school, as people look forward to retirement as a time when they won’t have to go to work. I used to fantasize about retirement, and yet now, retired, it’s ironic how much my activities resemble what I was doing when I was employed. The work I do now for enjoyment is quite similar to the work I used to do to make ends meet.
I enjoy the actual work, but I also need the structure the school day and week provide. Like many of you, I have to carefully plan my vacation time so that I don’t end up doing too much or too little. And also like many of you, I look forward to the end of vacation time; it may be liberating in some ways to empty out our usual schedules, but it can also be a relief to go back to the schedules.
So I guess it’s appropriate that “vacation” comes from a word that means “empty.” There are times when life gets too full – too full for parents, teachers, and/or children. Or full of the wrong things. So it makes some sense to look forward to emptying times. But it can also be useful to remember that we do rely on having something to do; adults and children can be surprised by some of the feelings of emptiness that accompany vacations.

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