A Little Bit of the Griswolds in Us All

I tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about the future, and I doubt that I’m in the minority in that. For most of us, this is at least partially a byproduct of our jobs.

Each year from the middle of August until the end of May, hardly a day goes by that the specter of upcoming classes is not on a teacher’s mind. Many jobs have similar demands and result in a preoccupation that is neither comfortable nor encouraging. As the weeks and months pass, the constant demands of the jobs can become a grind.

Escaping the Grind

Amid the daily grind, we frequently find ourselves thinking about a future time or place, which will be a respite from our present struggles. In the modern vernacular, it is us going to “our happy place.”

Usually, when I return to work in the blistering month of August, I am thinking about the joys of football season, cooler weather, and celebrating the holiday season with my family. In January, when all of that is in my rearview mirror, the happy place becomes spring break on a cruise ship and eventually, the extended time off during the blessed summer break.

Living in the shadow of the pandemic casts our traditions in an uncertain light. Professional football is actively planning a return, but I have little confidence the season will play out to its usual conclusion.

With a vaccine or treatment somewhere off in the future, plans of big holiday gatherings appear to be wishful thinking. Cruise ships are currently in mothballs, and I would not be surprised if cold fronts avoid the Gulf Coast of Texas for the next several months.

Anticipation versus Reality

The funny thing is that almost none of the events or seasons we look forward to are anywhere near as grand as we anticipated. Our happy places turn out to be as realistic as a DollarTree ribeye steak.

One reason the Vacation movies have proved to be so popular is that we can all relate to the experiences of the Griswold family. No, we might not have found ourselves taking a theme park security guard hostage with a BB gun, or having a cousin empty a chemical toilet into a storm drain, but we can sympathize and laugh at their frustrations from a distance.

Walt Disney World is a fantastic family destination, but it’s easy to tell the families who just arrived from those that have been in the park for a week.  Those families that marched through the gates with such joy and anticipation on Day 1 are, a few days later, reduced to reenacting the Bataan Death March. Mom and Dad no longer remember why EPCOT is a must-see, but they press on, determined to make it through the World Showcase from Albania to Zambia.

The Little Everyday Things

In the epic novel Lonesome Dove, a young woman named Lorena dreams of leaving her hot, miserable life in south Texas and going to San Francisco, an ideal town she’s never visited. Time and again, she expresses her sincere desire to go west to the place of her dreams.

Older and wiser, her friend Gus, a seasoned Texas Ranger tells her:

“Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment. The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself.”

Each year we look forward with great anticipation of so many events and seasons, and none of them turn out the way we imagined them in the months leading up to them.

Last year at this time, we were on a nice vacation, but it was far from the paradise of our dreams. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m confident we will anticipate our next holiday with rose-colored glasses.

Maybe we all have a little bit of Clark Griswold in us and set standards that no family activity can achieve. If that’s true, then we have all the more reason to learn to like the everyday little things.

For me, no matter how rough my day at work, I’ve learned to look forward to the everyday things that follow like a simple dinner with my wife or a stroll through Costco. When I need a little excitement, I can visit with my grandsons who make my life more thrilling than any ride at Walley World.