Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grandma’s Legacy: Slowing Down and Living Well

By Kate Kirby
Gordon College News Service
(This editorial appeared September 16, 2010, in The Salem News.)

With the faint smell of pine needles and the occasional crisp breeze, back to school specials mark the beginning of fall and subsequently the end of vacation season. I am on what looks to be my last weekend getaway: a trip to grandma’s.

There are no cookies waiting for me on the table, nothing wafting from the kitchen; widowed twice, my 78-year-old grandmother is a working woman. But unlike most other Ph.D. holders, she puts in 10-12 hour days as an underpaid clinical psychologist so that she can pack as much family time in as humanly possible while taking annual trips with her childhood friend. Blocks away from the Jordan hotel bombings in 2005, sporting crampons while traversing glaciers in Patagonia, and marching for peace in Sharm el-Sheikh with Suzanne Mubarak Egypt’s first lady, my grandmother aspires to die penniless working to live, not living to work.

Though she could probably use a little more daily R&R, her priorities are rare for the typical “American dream” lifestyle where family and vacation are often put on the backburner. Unlike most Europeans, the majority of Americans are allotted an inhumane amount of vacation time. As a culture we are overworked, whether circumstantially or by choice, and when those prime two weeks of vacation time do arise, we don’t know what to do with them.


As a recent college graduate, I’ve spent four years learning that a successful career requires significant sacrifices. In order to achieve the American dream and live well, I’m told I have to reprioritize my life around my job. In this economy especially, I am lucky even to land a job—one I’ll start next month—and negotiations are unlikely to change my initial allotted vacation days. A friend, though overqualified, is only rationed one week a year. And while I can’t blame her for taking the job and will understand when she chooses to visit her family in her free time, I’ll miss our annual escapades and secretly swear my work schedule will be different.

In other words, renovating a lifestyle built on over zealous commitments, extracurricular activities, and systemic entrapment is a daunting task to say the least. But I think a good place to start will be to fully utilize those couple of weeks I do have. Why? Because once actually on vacation, I’ve noticed many people, programmed for productivity, seem to have a hard time going into relaxation mode, which is why experts say one week doesn’t cut it. So once on vacation, one important ground rule needs to be set.

Earlier this summer I took my bike to explore some islands off the coast and while lounging on the ferry enjoying the striking scenery, the deep shades of sea and welkin blue, a father-daughter duo were glued to their Blackberries. More likely than not, the father was busy responding to the backhaul of work emails, and the daughter, following his example, was probably texting her friends back home, complaining about the poor cell reception.

Rule I will swear by: Turn off the technology.
I will take a picture if I must, but will seek wholeheartedly to take the time to enjoy what is happening in front of me. I will not let an iPod segregate me from my surroundings and will instead listen to the sound of the seagulls singing their sea shanties. I will put away my cell phone and talk with the person sitting beside me.

At least I hope I will. I’ll be honest, though, it won’t be easy. We’ve become so out of touch with the here and now—so jaded by instant gratification enablers like cell phones, fast food, Google, TiVo—that living in the moment is almost a thing of the past. Though our forefathers succeeded in liberating us from our oppressors, we’re now slaves to our jobs, chained to self-isolating devices and overworking ourselves to serve the king of consumerism.

Which brings me back to the beginning. As the weekend comes to an end, I bid my grandmother farewell after promising to squeeze her into my busy schedule. With fall here, ushering me into my first full-time job, I am all too aware of how much of an art form slowing down really is. Some are naturally gifted while others need lots of practice and discipline. A devoted mother, friend, adventurer and career woman, my grandmother, despite impeding circumstances, has shattered the mold and sculpted a life truly worth replicating. I hope, now more than ever, to strap on my own set of crampons and tread in her deep and prolific footsteps.

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