By John E. Trombley, MMgt
The Village Business Institute
My wife and I took a much needed vacation to Virginia in May this year, a state with roots deeply planted in our nation’s rich, but relatively young, history. It was just the two of us; no other family members, no obligations, no schedule to follow, and no guilt! In fact, just prior to leaving, I had upgraded my cellphone and messed up connecting my work email to the phone. The serendipity is that I was completely unplugged from work. It was just what the doctor ordered.
For us, we don’t consider trips for weddings, funerals, and family obligations to be in the same category as a true vacation. Not that we have a problem with doing any of those things; it’s just not the same as “getting away from it all.” We just happen to be at a different point in life, I guess, and we have come to realize that the busy-ness of life can easily overwhelm and stifle our ability and desire to be more, well, connected to each other. We’ve come to realize that when we aren’t connected, everything else is affected in the same way.
So there we were in Virginia (“Virginia is for lovers!”) with no relatives in sight and we took time to just be with each other and reconnect those disjointed pieces and parts. Then we began to explore the incredibly rich heritage that was planted by those whose sacrifice made it possible for us to enjoy the splendor and beauty of our nation today. We visited Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello and got a glimpse into what it took to survive and thrive 250 years ago at the time of our nation’s birth. We were blown away not only with the history and grandeur of the place, but also with the complexity of what it took to run a household of that size, and the physical labor (provided by slaves) to make it so magnificent and so functional. Clearly today, we all recognize slavery as the abomination that it was. There is no way to justify it. It is also too easy and too simple, to vilify, judge and condemn the practices and beliefs of a people living in a place and time so different from our experiences today. They did what they did because that is what they knew to do. Still, we found ourselves shaking our heads at that sad history and wondered if we, too, would have been any different in our beliefs and attitudes. I’d like to think so, so it was somewhat gratifying to learn that even though Jefferson was a slave owner, he was not in favor of the practice, but found himself trapped in the grim political and fiduciary realities of the day. As a result, the slaves of Monticello were known to be the best treated and best provided for in the region.
Then we stepped even farther back into history as we visited the still very active archeological site of the first successful British colony in America at Jamestown. With history being re-written there almost daily, I began to reflect on what it must have been like in 1607 for those early settlers in what is now known as “Historic Jamestowne;” to leave all that was familiar in England to eke out a meager existence in a new world, knowing they would never see friends and family again. Many of them met an early demise brought on by disease, starvation, or conflict with the native people of the area. Wholly unprepared for what they would face and what it would take to survive, these first settlers were nonetheless intrepid sojourners upon whose sacrifice a nation would be built.
Imagine: No cell phones; no email; no computers; no social media; no TV; no quick trips to the grocery store to stock up on worthless junk food before the next big storm hits; no racing around trying to fill the day with “stuff” in the hopes of finding meaning and purpose; no planning vacations to get away from it all. Just the slow, steady, unrelenting pursuit of trying to stay alive for one more day on a patch of ground smaller than most people have in average-sized neighborhoods today. And we think we have it tough when the power goes out for a couple of hours or the battery in our cell phone dies and we feel so isolated from the rest of the world.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how really fortunate I am to have been born in a day and age when I can do just about anything I want, go just about anywhere I want, and eat just about anything I want, just about any time that I want. I would not have fared well as a Jamestown settler.
Not far from Jamestown we stood on the hallowed grounds of the Battle of Yorktown where the final, decisive battle of the Revolutionary War was fought. It was here that, for three weeks in the fall of 1781, the Continental and French armies engaged in the grinding resolve of battle to defeat British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, an event that struck at the heart of British power and collective psyche. The trenches and revetments are still there today, along with several cannon pieces and the ghosts of the dead on both sides, and suddenly I sensed the connection to those souls through time and space. In a heartbeat I was hurled back in time and reminded that this same battleground saw even more blood spilled between brothers of a fledgling nation. Less than 80 years later it was the sight of bitter, pitched battles between soldiers of the Union Army and the Confederacy as our young nation struggled to define what was good, right, and just for us as a people.
A profound sense of awe and reverence, and a deep sense of gratitude gripped me like a vise in a way I’ve never quite experienced before, and I realized once again how small and how fragile I really am, and I found myself wanting to ensure the connections in my own life are well-attended, healthy, and less self-focused.
It takes a life-long process of engagement to nurture those relationships that we often take so easily for granted. The busy-ness of life and the mindless running around that we tend to believe is so important to our finding happiness pales when we take the time to listen to the sound of the breeze in the trees, the bird’s song as it flies by, children laughing and squealing with delight, and playing as children do, and, indeed, the sound of our own heartbeat when the silence finally creeps in between our cluttered thoughts and “to do” lists.
Take time today to tell someone you care. Thank someone today for doing what they normally do because you notice it and it makes a difference no matter how great or small. Slow down today to reprioritize your values and connect with people by focusing on them for a change—even if it’s only for a few minutes. Today, breathe in the deep sense of awe, admiration and gratitude for those who have gone before you in nameless, faceless ranks marching off into history – both recent and distant – so that you can have what you have today.
And then today, determine to create a legacy of your own so that others may one day enjoy their lives with a deeper appreciation and sense of wholeness as well. None of us are promised tomorrow. Live life with purpose and passion today; leave nothing to chance!
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