Finding my way

Launching into Limbo

How can I explain it …

If freshman year of college was a cloud of water vapor, free and uninhibited, then my recent family vacation can only be described as a block of glacial ice that’s been buried at the bottom of my freezer for the past 11 years.

OK, fine, we don’t actually have a slab of ice sitting in our freezer. But you get the point. No experience seems to embody the antithesis of my time in college quite like a 13-day family vacation.

A few weeks ago, the four of us traveled to Greece. It was the first big trip we took as a family after my sister and I left for college last fall. Believe me when I tell you — there is nothing like a family vacation to drag you back into your childhood. In fact, my return began as soon as I boarded the plane to Athens.

For as long as I can remember, my dad and I have watched movies together on airplanes. Not just side by side, though, as other people might go about it. We’re much more particular. After navigating to the chosen film, we count to three and press “play” at precisely the same moment, synchronizing our TVs so that every scene, facial expression and movement of the movie matches — as if the two screens are one. We like it better this way, laughing and gasping and smiling together.

Like these movies — enjoyed in a way that cherishes togetherness — my family’s vacations have also come to be defined by shared experience. On trips, there seems to be an intimacy and closeness in all that we do. Every single second of the day is spent with one another: a wonderful bond that feels reminiscent of my childhood.

And though I may prefer at least some personal space — the bathrooms in a couple of our shared hotel rooms had far-too-revealing glass doors or (quite unfortunately) none at all — I’ve come to embrace this inescapable connection because it seems rather fleeting.

While away at college last year, I sorely missed our family dinners. Because I lived miles away from home, we were no longer able to share those meaningful moments of our days together.

On vacation, however, that changed. In Greece, we had many family breakfasts, lunches and dinners. In fact, we had all three, daily. It’s a wonderful ritual to have, yet back home, there often seem to be interruptions around mealtime: a movie to watch, a Warriors game to record or else some other prior commitment requiring our attention. But being abroad, extricated from the obligations of work or school and the distraction of entertainment, we can simply enjoy one another’s company.

One of our other favorite things to do when we arrive in a foreign place is to take leisurely walks, to wander two by two across the unfamiliar landscapes and absorb the character of the land we traverse.

In Greece, we roamed down narrow, winding roads and past elegant, whitewashed homes. We got lost, sometimes intentionally, in the beautiful mazes that are the streets of the old Greek cities. We often found our way, and just as often, we got lost again. The nice thing about these strolls, though, was that we were never expected anywhere. There was never a need to hurry.

I find something special in meandering like this. It’s different from how we normally get around. As opposed to driving a car with a specific destination in mind, the experience of walking aimlessly in a new place allows us to connect with each other and our surroundings in a nuanced way. Like the wonder of early childhood — when you find yourself fascinated by all that you encounter — vacation allows us to revert, ever so briefly, to a life carefree.

When we were young, my sister and I would always hold our parents’ hands during these casual strolls into the unknown. But recently, we’ve made these walks together, arm in arm, 50 or so feet ahead of my parents. Usually, it’s near the end of our trips, when these places begin to feel a little bit more like home. Only then do we feel comfortable leading, stepping out on our own.

And so this is how I’ve approached my time here at UC Berkeley so far; like a confident tourist, I am curious, interested, but not in search of anything in particular. For now, I plan on wandering.

Soon, though, I think I’ll find my way. We always do.

Jericho Rajninger writes the Thursday column on the liminal space between childhood and adulthood during a summer home from college. Contact him at [email protected]