I freely admit that I have lost my perspective on life right now.
I so well remember thirteen years ago when I was a graduate student and a friend and I purchased a ticket to Rome on a whim. I was turning 30, the round trip fare was $350, and I spent about $800 for a ten day trip. It was an incredibly decadent thing to do because I was totally broke. I put the whole thing on a credit card and spent about two years paying it off (probably closer to three, actually). I still have some of the gorgeous Deruta dishes and ceramics I purchased in Sienna.
Yea. Broke as I was, I shopped.
Because my feeling then, as now, was that you’ve got to carpe el diem. I spent a lot of time back then working my stomach into knots over my finances and living in terror of all the debt I was accumulating, but I still wanted to do some special things, take advantage of my youth and freedom, and enjoy. I don’t regret it a bit (I do wish my photos from that Italy trip were of better quality, though).
When I started in ministry I was always shocked and paralyzed when a financial stresser appeared in my life — something like, say, taxes. Or a car repair. Or just a regular monthly bill I had forgotten about. I was underpaid and trying to keep my head above water and I remember how I gnawed at my nails over my checkbook every month. I would hear of colleagues going on sabbatical and traveling through India or taking cruises through the fjords of Norway and I would think, “Ha ha ha. That will NEVER be me. I will NEVER have enough money to take one of those cool tours to the Holy Land or to India or Norway. I’m going to be dead broke for the next twenty years.”
Well, the years passed and life got better. My paychecks got bigger, writing a rent check every month became a thing of the past (and not owning a house feels less scary now than it did a year or so ago!), and most importantly, I learned how to budget, how to keep an eagle eye on my finances (for instance, I balance my checkbook every DAY now, not every month), and I learned how to save. I know what my don’t-want-to-live-without-’em luxury items are, and I know about rice and beans. People don’t notice this, but I’m good at hunkering down for a few weeks at a time and staying really quiet and non-spendy. I do $20 challenge weeks where I give myself twenty single dollar bills on Saturday and if I can make it through to the next Saturday without having charged anything and without having spent all the bills, I win. I get to move on to the $10 dollar challenge week. If I win THAT, and especially without feeling deprived, I WIN BIG. There’s no prize, just a big air guitar concert in the dining room.
For the past three years I have been ferociously saving for sabbatical (it was four, but Ermengarde’s upper respiratory crisis wiped out a few thousand dollars of savings) and now it is my turn to take that “cool trip” to the Holy Land of the Bible and the cradle of European Unitarianism. I honestly would not have believed just ten years ago that this would be me.
But right now I am so overwhelmed by the details of preparing for five weeks away, I can’t savor the moment. I’m experiencing the same pre-trip fear and sadness that I did right before I left for Texas and Nicaragua, but this time with more fear of the unknown mixed in: will I hate the structure of being on a tour? What if my roommate snores or doesn’t have a sense of humor? What if it’s really hot, or really cold and rainy? There’s very little wi-fi access so I won’t be able to blog and upload photos along the way, which bums me out. What if someone steals my camera and I lose all my visual memories? What if my IBS flares up and I have to use the bathroom ALL the time!? What if I hate Greek food? What if the ruins bore me or I’m too shallow to get anything out of the tour and want to go shopping? What if I feel like I wasted my money signing onto these tours?
(Isn’t this charming, how the mind works?)
What if I just want to get Ermengarde from my friend Peter’s, because I miss her so much, and what if I just want to stay home and watch movies and read books with Max and Erm? What if I want to spend the last month of my sabbatical curled up in bed and eating Chinese take-out every night?
I can’t believe my sabbatical is coming to an end after this trip. I’m happy to go back to work, I’m just amazed at how fast it all flew by and how few gourmet meals I learned to cook and how many chapters of my dissertation I didn’t write and how many home improvement projects and how many scrapbooking projects I didn’t do. I mean, I did some (except for the gourmet meals part). I also watched some TV almost every day I was home, which is a totally alien concept for me in regular time.
So this is where I’m at right now and I’m not surprised. I know the territory and I even think it’s kind of funny. In 48 hours, I’m going to be in ISTANBUL. I just got the shivers writing that. I’m going to go to ATHENS. I’m going to visit the village where my grandfather was born. I’m going to preach in TRANSYLVANIA. It’s so incomprehensible. I saved and I planned and I dreamed and I visualized it and my congregation approved and supported me in all of those dreams and it’s all happening.
I’ve been packing this new Eddie Bauer super-duper magical duffle bag that has a nifty under-compartment where I’ve packed gifts for my partner church minister and my shoes and unders. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting really good at this or maybe this duffle bag is seriously magical because no matter how much I pack, there’s still tons of room left and the bag never seems to get that heavy.
We’re hitting the road, Duff and Me, on Saturday afternoon. See you when I see you, amigos.