I have always loved The Sundays’ cover of the Rolling Stones’song, “Wild Horses.” That beautiful, haunting melody popped into my head this past weekend when we took an impromptu family trip to the Maryland shore. A long weekend, a Groupon, and some low-key togetherness were all that was on the agenda. I figured the hotel’s indoor pool would be the highlight for the boys.
It was just a happy accident that we discovered we were staying near Assateague Island, home of the famous wild horses. So on a sunny, cold morning, we set off to explore the island. While we had learned at the visitors’ center that 101 horses lived on Assateague, we could not spot a single one – until we did.
There, grazing alongside the mostly deserted road, was a tawny, slightly scruffy-looking horse, nearly the same color as the underbrush. We all went nuts. The horse was unperturbed.
We looped around the island, taking in the windswept grasses and shallow, rippled water sparkling in the late-November sun. The beach was dotted with crab shells and blue and scarlet claws, picked clean by seagulls. Piles of fresh manure were the only clues that all those horses really did exist. Where were they all?
Then on our way back, we encountered a whole herd of them. Or a half-dozen, anyway. I was thrilled to see some of them sported the dramatic brown-and-white markings I’d seen in photos. As the park rangers warned us, we stayed a good 10 feet away. They may look cute and fuzzy, but they are wild animals that will bite and kick. (Miles is not in this picture because he refused to take any chances!)
Out of curiosity, I later Googled the lyrics to “Wild Horses.” I hadn’t remembered the first line: “Childhood living is easy to do/The things you wanted I bought them for you.” It’s like Keith Richards was trying to tell me something from beyond the grave. (Oh, wait. He’s still alive?) Apparently, it started as a song for his newborn son.
See, this trip was more than a weekend getaway for our family. It was also a conscious decision to start putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak. I grew up traveling a lot with my family. And one of my biggest regrets so far as a parent is that I haven’t been able to do that with my own kids. It’s easy to say that it’s because of money and time, but that’s only part of it.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote author Annie Dillard. And I spend way too many of my days worrying about stuff; cleaning, organizing, fixing, and getting rid of stuff; and working to earn money to buy more stuff. Do I really want my kids to grow up thinking weekends are spent at Target and Home Depot? Even though I’ve always known that people and experiences matter more to me than things, I’m not sure I’m walking the walk.
I once met an aesthetician who made a lasting impact on me. (And not just because she worked wonders on my eyebrows.) She told me that she and a couple of massage therapist friends would go on trips together each year to exotic locations. They had clients who would let them stay in their vacation homes all over the world. So these women would work all year waxing and kneading people, then live it up in a villa on the beach somewhere for a week or two. This blew my mind.
It crystallized for me the difference between living to work and working to live, and also proved that you don’t need to marry George Clooney to vacation on the Italian Riviera. Or be a professor taking a sabbatical overseas (which is how my family traveled growing up).
While this is still a tough one for me to grasp, when it comes to living in alignment with your values, you don’t even necessarily have to figure out the “how.” Start with the “what” and the “why” — for example, I want to travel with my family more to expose them to new places and experiences and spend meaningful time together.
You also have to be open to the possibility that getting there — or even the “there” itself — may not look exactly how you envisioned. It may be even better. Like a windswept island among the wild horses.