Reflecting on a recent holiday, Veronica Zundel considers how it mirrored life’s unexpected turns.
“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”, wrote that famous author Someone-or-Other. Me, I prefer to arrive. The journey is part of the experience, certainly – it may even be part of the holiday – but the destination is surely the object. That’s why it wasn’t at all welcome the week before last when our Eurostar train was delayed by an hour and 40 minutes, which meant we missed our sleeper connection from Brussels to Vienna by a frustrating five minutes.
We had to find a hotel in Brussels for the night and a flight for three of us to Vienna the next morning, at eye-watering cost (the alternative would have been a ten-hour train journey with a change, effectively cancelling 20 per cent of our five-day holiday).
Not only all that, but, when we arrived in Vienna, it rained steadily and often heavily for three out of the five days we were there. We still managed to have a good time, mostly thanks to liberal helpings of Wiener Schnitzel and cream cakes, as well as seeing my nearest relation twice – but it wasn’t quite what we anticipated, especially in May.
To add insult to injury, it turns out the Eurostar travel insurance only covers delays of three hours or more, and expires the moment you get home, so that you have to claim while you’re still on holiday. Fortunately we had other insurances, one of which even turned out to be still valid.
This is a time of year when many of us are ‘going away’, whether we think of ourselves as holiday-makers, tourists or intrepid explorers. Whether we are flying, Inter-railing, camping or staying in a five-star hotel, tramping cities or slumping on the beach, we will have a vision in our minds of how our precious time of refreshment and relaxation is going to look. Reality, sadly, often doesn’t match up – and there is no family row to equal a family row on a stressful journey!
Navigating the journey of life
At the risk of sounding like a clichéd preacher, isn’t life a bit like a journey? We make our plans, we consider the contingencies and the possible disruptions, and off we set. Some of us travel in groups, some alone and some have an (invisible) guide on whom we rely to take us on safe routes to spacious places. But even with that invisible guide, things can turn out entirely differently from what we expected. There’s a well-known piece about living with a child with special needs called ‘Welcome to Holland’ by Emily Perl Kingsley. It tells of a couple who were going on holiday to Italy.
Everything was prepared, and they were looking forward to their exciting trip. When they embarked on the journey, however, they found themselves unexpectedly stranded in Holland. Now there’s nothing wrong with Holland in itself, it’s just that they were expecting to be in Italy and Holland is very different – mostly rather flat, for a start, and the art is rather everyday and pedestrian in comparison. I find that a pretty good analogy for expecting to have a ‘perfect’ child and instead getting one who is different from the norm (and in the case of autism and some other learning disabilities, the realisation that one’s child is ‘divergent’ may not come for years).
This doesn’t just apply to parenthood. You may expect, for instance, to find a wonderful marriage partner, or indeed any marriage partner at all; but, especially if you are a Christian woman and want to marry a Christian man, the odds are definitely against you. Or you may live with chronic illness, which hampers your work opportunities and social life. Perhaps your career may simply not have developed in the way you hoped and now you’re approaching retirement and wondering what you’ve achieved.
Then there is the popular idea that God has a wonderful plan for your life (often parodied as ‘God has a wonderful man for your life’, though neither is quite true). The corollary of this is that if your life isn’t that wonderful, you must have slipped off the path at some point and missed out on God’s plan. But what kind of parent would plan out their children’s lives in every detail from the get-go?
I’d call that a control freak rather than a loving father/mother. I believe that God works with the circumstances we find ourselves in, and at every point he is able to make a new plan for us in response to the choices we make and the things that happen to us. The destination is fixed – a new heavens and new earth – but the journey is open. And, in spite of all the twists and turns, the missed connections and the extra expenses, all I can say is: what a journey!