I have always been attracted to the word sabbatical. It sounds much more respectable and purposeful than “I need to get heck out of here because life as it is, is driving me insane!” Most people think sabbaticals are reserved solely for academics or clergy to recharge and refresh, so that they can deepen their understanding of a subject and return to their teaching or research with renewed vigor. While we recognize the purpose and benefits for academia, it is discounted and discouraged for others. I would argue that it is every bit as important for everyone to have time to reflect, recharge and develop personally and spiritually. Very few people allow the space for serious and often beneficial contemplation to live life intentionally. Too many of us, self included, get caught up in the expectations and currents of life before we even have the faintest idea of what is going on. Perhaps fear is the reason we steam ahead certain in our uncertainty. It is said we are the sum of our choices, but what if all of those choices were made with little thought or insight and the total is wrong? I do not think there is anything more terrifying than that. While many people double down and harden on their current path, a sabbatical is an opportunity to rediscover, develop awareness and enrich life and purpose. While world travel may be out of the question or impractical, especially for people with school aged children, traveling North America in an RV for a year or more is well within reach for many.
We have heard “youth is wasted on the young,” since they are unable to fully appreciate what they have, and make decisions without the advantages that come with wisdom and experience. In American culture we allow little time for young people on the cusp of adulthood to “find themselves.” Instead they are prodded through educational intuitions with the carrot of the American Dream held before them, and the stick of shame behind. In European countries they embrace what is known as a “gap year.” This is a year devoted largely to travel and having experiences that will hopefully spark interests and guide their young adult years with added perspective. Given that our culture is built on a historically touted work ethic and today emphasizes consumption, taking time to develop personally is seen as indulgent. Unfortunately, the result of this lack of perspective is narrow mindedness and intolerance, which is evident in our current politics and news media. In the late 1800’s and turn of the century, the railroad companies, in cahoots with the National Parks, promoted the “See America First” campaign, urging travelers to get to know their country before distant lands. Today that may be good advice. We live in a diverse Nation, and as citizens, we owe it to ourselves and fellows to know it better. Perhaps one of the greatest civic lessons a young person can have is an immersive travel experience; be it biking cross country or hooking up a small trailer and hitting the road. This type of gap year experience should not be undervalued for its ability to inspire creativity, self reliance, and other honorable traits.
Many Americans are afforded a few weeks of vacation and travel each year, but this pales in comparison to fully immersing oneself into what can be a challenging yet highly rewarding full-time experience. We recently have been reflecting on all that we have learned and seen in the last year and half, and realize that this experience will continue to enrich our lives long after we put down roots again.