and ramblings on everything in between
I’m not a spontaneous person. I’m not the girl you call on a Wednesday afternoon to see if she wants to go out that night. The answer will almost always be no. I like to mentally prepare for things. I like to have notice. This is something I really dislike about myself.
So when a co-worker, Sara, asked me on a Saturday if I wanted to travel to Michigan with her on the coming Thursday for the holiday weekend, I could hardly believe myself when I exclaimed, “YES!” No month to plan for it? No adding a line to your budget sheet to save for it? Really, Ashlee?
The holiday weekend was rapidly approaching and I hadn’t made any plans for it. I was worried it would be a holiday and a birthday that went unnoticed. But the universe must have gotten the invite before I did and ensured nothing would need to be rearranged. Some trips just have a way of finding you, I guess.
I was determined to pack lightly to be as small of a nuisance as possible. I assumed Sara and her family would measure my gratitude not in my thank you’s and smiles, but in how successful I was at not taking up space. I strive to be a simplest in my everyday life, but when it comes to minimalist packing, I fail epically. I blame it on my years as a nanny. One must be prepared for every single weather scenario when toting kids around. Now that mentality is my packing motto.
The seven-hour drive from St. Louis to Holland on the 4th was filled with reading and getting to know my co-worker and friend better. We played a car bingo game to pass the time, determining to fill the whole playing card instead of stopping when the first person bingoed. As we arrived in the quaint, patriotic town late that afternoon, we still needed to place an X over a fire truck. Sara’s father offered to drive by a fire station before going to her mother’s house so we could spot a rig, as if his daughter was six again instead of 26. Once we arrived, I was greeted by a stranger at the door but instantly felt at home when I walked in. It was warming to see a mother and a daughter reunited. I felt helpless as they danced around the kitchen making dinner, kissing each other on the cheek and chatting excitedly about all the life that had happened since their last meeting.
After dinner, we went to the city park on the water to watch fireflies dance in the night air while waiting for fireworks to fill the sky. I reminded myself to focus on all the freedoms I have, so many of which go unnoticed – my freedom as a woman to work, my freedom to write about God, my freedom to wear whatever I care to – and I wanted to use that evening to reflect and remember.
I slept in a guestroom that was nicknamed The Treehouse due to the fact that as you lie in bed and look out the window, all you see are tree branches. It’s a wonderful way to wake up in the morning. The sheets were as soft as a baby’s blanket. I did snow angles in them the first night to feel their smoothness again and again.
The next evening we bought ice cream and walked along Lake Michigan to watch the sunset. It was a clear night with no breeze. As we approached the beach, it was as if sound ceased to exist in those moments. People were running in the water, on the beach, across the sand volleyball courts, but their laughter and chatter didn’t reach us. We made it to the end of the pier with a few minutes left before dusk. I let myself fill with awe as I said goodbye to 28 and beckoned my next year to begin. I’m not sure how I imagined I would feel about turning 29, but that evening I was overflowing with hope and excitement and so much gratitude. Gratitude for another year here on earth. Gratitude for the spontaneous trip that brought me to a different world just two states away. Gratitude for learning new names and seeing new places. I marveled at the beauty of the simple sunset over the water, the last of the sun’s rays reflecting back up to their origin. This magnificent phenomenon happens every day but almost always goes unnoticed. They are common, yet each one is so unique.
And as the sun rose the next morning in The Treehouse, another crystal clear day begged us to wake up and join it outside on the lawn. I opened my eyes to sunlight tricking through the leaves. It slowly covered the small, white space between the edge of the bed and my legs, which were curled up to my chest. Again, I was filled with thankfulness and almost giddiness. I rejoiced in the fact that we are forced to grow older each year because it pushes us to learn and experience and do.
My birthday started off with a free-form dance class, where there was no front of the room or back of the room. We fed off each other’s energy as we moved about from one side to the other. The class facilitator provided a basic movement and we provided our own personal flair, as Sara’s mother put it. “It’s like a metaphor for life,” she said. The only rule I could deduce was you are not allowed to think you look silly. We were alive and moving and that was beautiful to behold.
After we cleaned up and eat breakfast, we embraced the sunshine and the day. Berries from the farmer’s market, a bike ride to the beach where we swam in chilly water with smiles on our faces, and dining alfresco while a gentleman with a thick Irish accent and an acoustic guitar sang Bruce Springsteen, Snow Patrol, and Phillip Phillips songs to us.
The next day it was time to make the homage back to reality and my cubicle and no more vacation time. It took much longer to get out of Michigan than it did to get in. The sense of giddiness I experienced gradually left me with each sudden brake in stop and go traffic. We drove back on another clear, still, and peaceful evening. I watched the sunset over a different landscape that night. Corn and bean fields stretched out as far as the eye could see. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of home and the tiny Central Illinois town I grew up in. I remember thinking, See, Ashlee. A sunset can be just as beautiful in Illinois as it is in Michigan. Or Oregon or Maine, for that matter.
Sometimes you don’t have to travel far at all to see the world, your world, in a new and stunning way. Just look out a window and gaze for awhile and remember that this day, this sunset, this commute will be nothing like the one before it or the one after it. They are moments we will inevitably lump in with what we perceive to be the monotonous things in life unless we fight to fill them with wonder.