According to Merriam-Webster a “mirage” is “an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over hot pavement.” It may have the appearance of a pool of water, but it is an illusory or unattainable reality. It also happens to be the name Mitsubishi gave its compact hatchback – an economy car if ever one was made – which I recently drove on vacation over 1500 miles in the great American West.
Our trip took us from Denver, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona along a circuitous route that passed through Alamosa, CO; Moab, UT; Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona AZ. Along the way we hiked, explored and photographed five national parks, a national monument, a couple of tourist traps, two of America’s metropolitan centers, and some state and local municipal parks. We spent time with family & friends and had plenty of windshield time to reflect.
As I coaxed the aforementioned Mirage up and over mountain passes, through valleys, forests and deserts, even managing once or twice to pass slower traffic; I kept coming back to the irony of its name in connection with it’s performance. While it had the “illusory” appearance of a car, you had to make an appointment with the accelerator to get up to speed. Long term comfort was “unattainable” given they way it hugged the pavement, revealing each and every crack, crevasse, seal, bump, alteration and pothole. Loading luggage was equivalent to working a jigsaw puzzle, as it only fit in one particular configuration. There was plenty of time for thinking with road noise making conversation challenging. And more than once we had a hard time locating where we had parked the thing, given it’s knack for disappearing between larger vehicles.
Please do not get me wrong. This first world problem of transportation did not inhibit our trip or in any lasting way make us suffer. We made all our planned connections, saw the destinations we had counted on, and rediscovered the beauty and wonder of our nation. It was a wonderful vacation on which the Mirage became something we laughed about. Sometimes it even surprised us, proving advantageous when it came to parking in crowded lots and prompting a smile at the gas pump.
In today’s hectic and turbulent world, a vacation can be as illusory or unattainable for some as a mirage. Our ten plus days in the West and Southwest afforded a disengagement from the news as well as the responsibilities of daily life. I disciplined myself not to check work email, to mostly stay away from news sources, and shun social media. Still, the harsh and horrid scenes of the war in Ukraine, and mass shooting in Uvalde came forth. When, if ever, might those individuals find days of extended leisure, travel, or disengagement from life’s hard truths? Such dreams must seem a mirage.
Is it wrong to compartmentalize life in ways that vacations encourage? Or, is it one of the ways we manage to live? Constant exposure to breaking news, encouraged by the alerts one can receive on a phone today, can make you weary and wary. Many live life at a tyranny of the urgent pace, reacting to the “ding” of a text or instant message, not willing to let one phone call go to voicemail.
Vacations encourage balance. They can remind us of the gift of living an unhurried life, being present in the now, without anxiety for what’s next. They can facilitate Sabbath-like disengagement from the wheel of production, leaving us refreshed and ready to re-engage when the time comes. They do not exist as an escape from life, but a respite or aside that makes us appreciate and undertake living all the more.
I am thankful for parents who modeled the importance of time away, travel in whatever way we could afford it, and curiosity about what lay beyond. I am grateful for a life partner in adventure who humors my travel itineraries, puts up with my budgets, and reminds me of what is important.
In a few weeks, when the schedule is full and the calendar crowded, the past couple of weeks may seem to have only been a mirage. But I’ve got the pictures to prove otherwise, and I will pull them up, look them over, and remember with thanksgiving.
Here’s hoping your summer affords you some time to vacate – disengage – refresh – recover and be renewed.