Here in the middle of a midsummer heat wave, your thoughts probably will turn at least once toward where on earth you can go to escape the hot, humid weather. Destinations range from short trips to St. Paul or Chicago to transatlantic voyages to the Emerald Isle or the City of Light. The possibilities are limitless and, depending on how you go — study abroad, with some group you’re involved in or with friends — you could end up anywhere.
Indeed, the words of J.R.R. Tolkein ring true from the first installment of “The Lord of the Rings”: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door,” Bilbo Baggins tells his nephew. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Our travels can lead us anywhere, to any destination, through any adventure.
Often, as in the case of summer’s heat and humidity, we seek out alternative scenery and relaxation as a way to avoid the problems we face.
The lesson about the folly of that attitude might be as simple as the quirky, dorky song for which people remember Rupert Holmes: “Escape” or, more popularly, “The Pina Colada Song.” The narrator of that song is unhappy in his current relationship, sees a poetic ad in the newspaper inviting anyone with a litany of fun, enchanting tastes (“If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain / If you’re not in to yoga, if you have half a brain / If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of a cape”) to “write to me, and escape.”
The narrator accepts the offer and arranges to meet the mystery woman at a bar to “plan [their] escape.” Throughout the whole song, though, beginning to end, he notes that he was just as much at fault for the monotony of his relationship as his wife. He sends the reply letter to the newspaper knowing that he would be “escaping” his boredom by neglecting it into oblivion instead of working it out.
In the end, however, he realizes that the woman who originally sent the ad was, in fact, his wife. He simply never knew all those things about her and, having learned, resolves (or so it is implied) to stay with her.
The limitless possibilities of destination notwithstanding, we — each of us, all of us, together as well as individuals — cannot escape our pasts, nor can we fail to bring them with us as we make our present and shape our future. Our problems range in size from something like a supernova down to the subatomic and, while a change of scenery can be pleasant and even usefully refreshing, those problems linger back home and wait for our return.
The simple fact that we overlook much too often is that our problems are in us and part of us, not the places we inhabit. The first three rules of real estate, “Location, location, location,” do not apply. The places in which we find refuge on our vacations have to face their own problems: Hurricanes buffet Florida and the Gulf Coast, forest fires incinerate Colorado and the Rockies, and the Adriatic Sea floods Venice. In paradise, all is not always well in the same way that all is not well at home.
When we return from our week-long summer vacations our jobs will be waiting for us along with the bills that arrived in the mail, the grass that needs cutting and the flowers that need watering. When we return from our summer vacations from school, we will find that Syllabus Week ends quickly and that our course readings, assignments and exams are important. Bigger, more public problems, will also sneak up on us: In November we will elect a new president and Congress along with governors, state legislators, mayors, city councilmen, school board members and other offices of public trust.
Like many (if not most) other columns of mine, this piece ended with politics.
But it’s not just about politics. Our small private lives that will be forgotten before the luncheons are served at our funerals — those are important, too, and have just as much bearing on how we interact with others as the interactions that breed further interactions. They keep us sane, direct our ambition and cultivate our own individual unique culture and perspective.