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by collette mcfarland 
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Vacation Planning

I’ve been looking at my friends’ vacation pictures for years now, enviously. I’ve been unable to get more than an hour’s drive away from home for some time now, feeling obligated to my homebound father, despite his constant nudging, trying to push me out of the nest, assuring me he’d be fine. I know full well the extent of guilt I’d feel if anything happened to him and I was unavailable, off somewhere having fun. Ever heard of survivor’s guilt? Well I had it in reverse, in high doses.

Well, my excuses have been voided now, since dad passed away in my arms, just as I had prayed for. (Not the dying, but my being present when he met Jesus.) I still believe dad died on purpose so I could get on with my life. Never mind he was eighty five and ready to go, having lost all friends and contemporary family members not to mention they removed the Hallmark Channel from his cable lineup! Personally I saw no reason for him to not reach ninety. He pissed me off not listening to me and giving up; just wait till I see him again!

Well after that digression I need to get back to the subject matter, vacations. Now that I was free to be guilt free I no longer had to take second hand vacations through my friends experiences, I could actually take some on my own! Since dad died I started putting money aside from every paycheck earmarked for future excursions.

My first trip had to be simple, close to home still, within driving distances. I know, Maine and Washington State are all within driving distance, not to mention Canada and Mexico, but I mean someplace I could get to in a day and back if necessary. I was feeling a little anxiety attack coming on, like a high school student might feel going off to college, far from anything familiar and safe. I wasn’t aware of how neurotic I was, I knew I was neurotic, just not how much.

Somehow I hit on San Antonio. Five hours from home. It held lots of attractions, Sea World and the Natural Bridge Caverns for starters. Sounded do-able. I googled the area for weeks with mounting excitement and enthusiasm, wishing dad were here to go with me, knowing he’d never have agreed to it, he had too much baggage; walkers, feeding tube supplies, oxygen canisters, etc., etc. Then came his list of aches and pains that would cover too many pages to catalogue. I could almost hear his raspy weak voice, “Go on, I’ll be alright.” I looked over my shoulder to see if his spirit was floating around. Sometimes I felt when he was alive he had just wanted to get rid of me and my constant surveillance. Well, tough. So sad, so sorry.

Next I had to decide who to take with me; I wasn’t brave enough to go on my first trip solo. If my husband came I would have to get a pet sitter; not a problem, just an added expense. He didn’t seem keen on the idea so I eliminated him from the list, without encouraging him to change his mind. I couldn’t extend the offer to my son, his wife and my daughter, that would be too expensive, not to mention crowded. Plus, my daughter in law and son worked and I assumed they couldn’t get off, good defense. I narrowed it down to just my disabled, unemployed daughter and she agreed to the all-expense paid trip, she’s disabled, not stupid.

I called Sea World to make reservations, I wasn’t quite savvy enough to figure out the web site and I wanted to avoid any mistakes,( that’s a first for me, by the way, since my mistakes usually out number my good judgments.) They hooked me up with a motel and two tickets. I spent more days googling Sea World and its attractions and made reservations for two please, (on my own this time- pat on the back) for some quality time with the penguins and whales. Then I looked up the motel and its amenities getting an idea of the accommodations with more mounting anticipation. This looked like it was really going to happen in my lifetime.

Of course I explored the web site for the Natural Bridge Caverns also, disappointed on the limited photos available. That would be our first stop on day one of our trip.

I got out my GPS and charted my course, getting familiar with the easy route. How hard could it be, it was a relatively straight shot from here to there? Plus my GPS had a pleasant voiced tour guide so I didn’t have to view the map as much as follow directions.

I started packing close to departure time crossing things off my list as they made it into my luggage. Tooth brush, shorts, camera, reading material for at night, DVDs, CDs for the car ride, my PC, confirmation tickets, underwear (why are you shocked I mentioned underwear, everyone knows they need clean underwear on trips.) I just hope I don’t forget my camera to prove to my friends I honestly left home.

The day finally came, or should I say the morning finally came. I was up at four and at my daughter’s at five to find her outside and waiting for me just as I had planned; Surprise. And off we went into the wild blue ….er. …. pitch black horizon.

Natural Bridge Caverns was …exciting, once I got past the fear of going down 185 feet into a humid, wet, dark hole in the earth with eighteen stories of rock and dirt above our heads. Sure I knew what a cavern was before I got there, but still the tour guides description and warnings before we descended sounded like they were intended to scare off the paying guests, i.e. if anyone had claustrophobia, breathing, balance or heart problems they were advised to forego the tour. I scrutinized the group, some were much older than I and so I refused to be intimidated. If they could do it, so could I.

Inside the cavern there were narrow passages, big gaping holes into nowhere and formations given names like The Mount of the Landlord and The King’s Scepter. And a very steep thirty five step stairway at the end (the only outlet, no escalators, elevators or gulf carts,) that led to the clean open air world, which was convenient as we were all gasping for that nice clean air when we exited.

The next day, Sea World day, our scheduled plans were cancelled due to heavy thunderstorms complete with lightening and fast winds. You’d think a park that runs on water activities wouldn’t let a little terrain altering thunderstorm cause it to shut down. Talk about disappointment, we had to reschedule for the following day and kill time which we did well by getting lost and a flat tire. The tire turned out to be my most expensive souvenir, and at least it came with a warranty and we got to meet a very nice tow truck man who guided us to a tire shop, something not listed in the regular tour brochures. If he hadn’t been covered in grease, tar, sweat and tattoos of naked women I’d have given him a kiss and hug.

At last we made it to Sea world,(after waiting in line with hundreds of kids in matching t-shirts on field trips) and it was stupendous; we touched dolphin, held penguins, watched sea lions perform, got kissed by whales, yes, kissed by whales, walked long distances, stood in longer lines for food, ignored gift stores (till the last five minutes- I wasn’t about to carry a stuffed whale that was bigger than a 5th grader around a hot park all day long); and of course the grand finale was seeing Shamu in his show Believe.

We all gathered around the center stage …er..pool… and waited eagerly for the great Shamu to make his grand entrance, and what a grand entrance it was. In came the great black and white mammal to oohs and aahs. In he came, swimming around in circles till he spiraled straight up into the air and nosedived back down spraying and splashing everyone near the front. Up and down and all around he swam doing acrobatics to music and our immeasurable delight. Majesty in action, well worth the wait. I highly recommend going just to see this mighty animal perform, but if you sit up front bring an umbrella and wear a slicker. He even plunked himself up on a platform to be near his trainers who looked really small next to him. I mean they looked really small.

The saddest part of the experience was packing to go back home to my dull routine but as we all know nothing lasts forever….or does it?

There’s another expedition I’ve been looking forward to, a group experience, one I’ve been anticipating for years, in fact decades. I have no scheduled time for it, it will be a spontaneous adventure, not marked on any date on the calendar though some have made bold guesses and were obviously sadly mistaken. I don’t even know if I’ll be leaving in the morning, afternoon or night. I’ve been thoroughly researching it but no pictures of the area are in existence, just printed descriptions that I understand are rather inadequate.

The trip has been already paid for, I have a standing reservation and I don’t have to limit who I invite to go with me. I can invite all my kids, friends, neighbors and strangers up the street. I don’t have to pack for it because nothing materially I have will survive the trip. I won’t need a camera because it won’t be necessary to prove to anyone I genuinely went there, nor will I need clothes, (no it’s not to a nudist community, we’ll be provided with clothes on our arrival.) What luggage I will need I’ve been air mailing ahead, hopefully little items daily. It’s not within driving or boating distance but it’s within flying distance, though not by traditional means. I won’t suffer an anxiety attack making preparations and I certainly won’t need a GPS; what exhilarating freedom to know I won’t get lost because the lost aren’t coming; so sorry, so sad (they’d been encouraged to accept the invitation but declined.) Their future trip will be more like the Natural Bridge Caverns without the last minute offer to bail out and with more intense humidity, heat and depth: the exit will be blocked; so sad, so sorry.

And the grand finale? It will essentially be the opening act, also entitled “Believe” as that was the only way to get an invite to the awesome event. On arrival at our destination we’ll all gather around the main stage where in hushed silence we’ll await the arrival of ….Our blessed Lord and Savior; our host for all eternity. Then we’ll all burst out into singing and praising that will last longer than recorded time. There will be no thought of returning back to our old homes and dull routines because this vacation will last forever. The truth being this journey on earth is the temporary voyage and we’ll just be going home, at last.

Oh, and about seeing my dad again, I doubt I’ll remember being angry that he died too soon (again, at the grand age of eighty five) once I get caught up in the moment of being reunited with him, mom, my grandmas, grandpas, great grandmas, great grandpas……..ad infinitum. No more sadness, no more sorrow.

MATH 6:19-21
ACTS 4:12
1 COR. 2:9
EPH. 2:7-10
COL 1:9-14
1 THES 4:13-18

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