As you may have noticed, I haven’t written much lately. It was time to take a break –time to rest … time to gather my thoughts about life … time to get physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. I’m sure you’ve landed in just such a spot many times in your own life. Much like the sign on my favorite trail, I decided that I was “Closed For Restoration.” If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it!
My go-to place for such a mission, when possible, is St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which isn’t an easy place to reach from Los Angeles. At a minimum, one must take two flights, cross three time zones, collect one’s luggage at the airport terminal in St. Thomas, board a 10-passenger van that will take you on a stomach-twisting, nerve-biting ride through the narrowest of winding roads, run from the taxi to the ferry dock to make the scheduled trip across the channel, and finally, meet your greeter who will take you to retrieve the car you’ve rented so you can follow him or her to the villa you’ve booked. From door to door, it took us two days!
If that seems like a long way to go to seek some peace and quiet, you’d be correct. But, it’s also absolutely worth it – at least to me, and my husband. We’ve been making the trip for over a decade now, although when we started we were on the East Coast, which made it a bit easier. St. John is like a second home for us now. We know the landscape (tropical mountains and beaches), the roads (steep, narrow, curvy, and lined with breathtaking views), the restaurants (best assortment of seafood, fish and burgers that can be enjoyed wearing flip-flops and shorts), the good snorkeling spots (everything from turtles to sharks), the beaches (white sand and turquoise water), and a good many people who live on island (all friendly and happy to have tourists back on the island since last year’s hurricanes). St. John is comfortable and familiar in the best sense of the words, much like slipping into your favorite pajamas. Within minutes of stepping onto the island – and definitely after sipping on a potent rum punch – I’ve never failed to say, “God, I love this place!”
After all, what’s not to like? Everything from the salty air to the hillsides bursting with Bougainvillea to the changing kaleidoscope of blue skies reflected on clear water loosens the knots of worry and dread that I typically bring along with me. And, what could be more delightful than listening to the melody of crickets that sing their lullabies every night before bed? If you’re willing – and I was – those spellbinding moments of simply looking, listening, and enjoying your surroundings can make you feel blissfully happy. It’s like being a child again, happy to be alive with no agenda, except to appreciate where you are in that moment. In that state of contentment, I stopped grinding my teeth and stopped gripping the steering wheel. I stopped coughing and sneezing. I stopped complaining and I stopped fretting about anything and everything. Instead, I smiled for no reason. I took deep breaths and yawned loudly. I sipped my coffee and stared mindlessly at the sea. I napped without regrets. I even ate cake for breakfast and made scrambled eggs for dinner. “No rules” was my motto. What happened next, surprised even me. After spending the previous months fighting sinus issues and nagging headaches, dealing with bouts of high blood pressure and fatigue, and reaching for my inhaler on a regular basis, I suddenly felt well again.
It was then that I realized that if I never wrote another word or published another book or earned another accolade, I’d be okay. Don’t misinterpret what I’m trying to say. It wasn’t that I’ve-won-the-lottery-and-I-don’t-need-to-work-ever-again euphoria; but rather, it was a letting go of the need to place more milestones and achievements on my life agenda. Different pursuits – like gardening, walking through the forest, or watching parrotfish munch on coral – suddenly seemed utterly necessary and meaningful, and I wanted to fill my life with more of that, rather than frantic urges to be more than I already am. I wanted to immerse myself in the beauty of nature. I even wanted to appreciate where I was in the aging process, not trying so hard to reclaim my youthful physique or stamina. Wholeheartedly, I wanted to appreciate all of the wonderful and terrible and mixed up places I have been in my life because each and every experience made me into who I am today. And, I wanted to rest in the acceptance that I didn’t need to keep proceeding at the same pace I have been most of my life. It was okay to finally slow down and scale back my need to “be productive.”
Suffice it to say that I’m not always grateful for the aging process. I still yearn to run ten miles a day and stay up half the night watching movies or writing the next bestseller, but I can’t do those things any more without suffering consequences. My mind and body need more rest. Truthfully, my knees rebel every time I try to run a mile and my abs jiggle when I so much as skip with my granddaughter. My skin sags in all the obvious places and my eyes get heavy around 9:30 every evening. BUT I’M GRATEFUL TO BE ALIVE! That’s how I felt when I came back from St. John and that’s how I want to continue to feel – though that’s going to require some changes. So stay tuned as I try to renegotiate where we’re going to live, what my new goals are, and how I’m going to honor the fact that I’m no longer as spry and youthful as I was in my 30s or 40s or 50s. Change is definitely on the horizon.
Sometimes extracting yourself from all the busyness, the headaches, the chaos, the ups and downs of relationships, the unexpected emergencies, and the endless chores and deadlines is the only way to right one’s self. And the only one who can do that for you – is you! Self-care has to be self-administered. In the end, it will always be your choice, your decision, and your determination to do what is needed to restore your mind, your body, and your soul.
With that in mind, I think it’s time to hang my “Closed For Restoration” sign and take a nap in the garden.