The younger children in our family occasionally went on “run-aways”. Their second oldest sister, Rena, would take them out, one at a time for a few hours, boarding a bus for our small city’s four-block downtown area. There, they would wander around carefree, leaving chores and schoolwork behind. Each journey included a stop at the ice cream shop and bead store; other venues were optional. As the afternoon ended the girls would return home ready to get back to their responsibilities.
My husband and I just went on our own “run-away”. For thirty-two hours we left work entirely behind and drove to Vancouver, British Columbia. Our first trip to Vancouver was back in 1986, when our eldest child was five and we had not yet met our youngest few children. That summer boating trip established the coastal waters of British Columbia and the Canadian Gulf Islands as our vacation destination of choice. Whenever we could, we returned, often spending Shabbat plus a few more days in Vancouver. For those lucky Vancouverites, life probably has its normal worries and stresses, but for us, the city is wrapped in an escapist glow
Recently with barely more than a day at our disposal, my husband and I were attracted to the city as powerfully as a child is to the first ice cream truck coming down the street in summer. Arriving late at night, we eagerly anticipated what we knew had to be the next morning’s first activity. Biking around the Stanley Park seawall beckoned. Renting bicycles for two seemed ridiculously easy compared to all those years when we rented twelve for our own family and the single friends accompanying us on our trip. As we eased onto the park’s path, my husband and I began two hours of cycling which spanned twenty-five years of memories.
Vancouver’s physical beauty is awe-inspiring. Blue water and majestic tree-filled mountains proclaim God’s creative powers and recalled our thrill as parents sharing these blessing with our children. Each landmark we passed – the 10 o’clock cannon, the beaches peeking out as the tide withdrew, the children’s water park complete with a kids’ dryer – evoked memories of years past. Riding under Lion’s Gate Bridge reminded us of many a Friday when we timed our boat’s arrival to coincide with slack tide at the narrow entrance to Vancouver Harbour, dough for the Shabbat challah rising in the galley.
We passed the turn-off to the aquarium where our family had participated in an after-hours’ sleepover, dozing feet away from the killer whales’ whooshing circuits. Our children grew along with the belugas, otters and seals, many of whom they greeted with recognition as we pre-paid admission on Friday so that we could spend long Shabbat afternoon hours in their presence.
Beyond the harbor lay cities, bays and islands whose names stir up countless joyous memories. Ganges, Keats Island, Plumper Cove, Telegraph Harbour, Tod Inlet…these were the places where our children learned to sail and swim, to gaze transfixed at huge starfish, to thrill at the sight of a wild orca. Here they grew to feel capable and competent as they navigated the waters, reading charts and coping with tidal variations, currents and the ever occurring unexpected. Here is where concentrated and isolated time in a small, floating space cemented our family bonds.
As we continued biking, leaving the park and heading to False Creek, the two of us were accompanied not only by recollections of our children, but of the several single young women from our synagogue who used to sail with us, providing much needed extra pairs of hands and eyes. We spent long summer evenings discussing marriage and family with these girls. One has just welcomed a second grandchild with the husband whose visit on board we orchestrated hoping that romance would blossom, and the other, along with her own husband and seven children, was hosting our youngest as she settled into a new job in Southern California.
Sometimes, life’s to-do lists seem overwhelming. I am overflowing with gratitude to God for my thirty-two hour “run-away” with my husband during which we recalled so many blessings He has granted us over the years, not least of which are blissful surroundings He created that nourish our souls.