If I may offer a single suggestion to you this holiday season, dear reader, it would be this:  be wary of any road trip that promises to take longer than 24 hours one-way. With love, compassion and kindess for all, I say, simply, watch out. Take care. Such a trip is hard on your body, mind and spirit, even if you are traveling with (or toward) your best friends in the world.

Bonus Lesson #1: When all else fails, don’t forget to smile.

This warning goes double if there is a newborn or a two-year-old involved, or if you’re harboring any hurt feelings whatsoever towards the people you are traveling to or with. Why do I say this? Because I’ve just returned from the aforementioned road trip, of course. Approximately 2,500 miles later, I’ve learned a lot. But rather than tell you about all the reasons why the road trip was challenging, I’ll tell you about what made this (inherently difficult) journey a joy. So, without further ado, enjoy…

7 Lessons Learned from 7 Days of Travel:

1. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:  Always, always bring (healthy) snacks for your travels. Bring more than you think you’ll need, and share your food with others. Hunger leads to grouchiness, grouchiness leads to snapping, snapping leads to anger, and anger leads to the dark side.

2. If there is a zoo available at any point in your travels with a two-year-old, by all means, take the kid to the zoo. This will not only help the two-year-old to have a good day, it will also help you to fall in love with said two-year-old. (It is much easier to fall in love at the zoo, when the child is wide-eyed and fascinated by the graceful hippos and the splashing penguins, than on the car ride, when he is screaming because his mom is driving, and not sitting next to him.)

3. Small things can (and do) make a big difference. This point kept coming home to me time and time again. One day, it was the choice to sing, “Old McDonald” that made all the difference between a sobbing toddler and a laughing one. The next day, it was the decision to tell the truth and communicate rather than avoid hard conversations. These small things had the power to alter the entire course of the trip. (More on this in #7.)

4. Forgiveness is hard, but the alternative is much, much harder. At one point in the trip– on Thanksgiving morning, to be exact– one of the people we were staying with said some things that were deeply hurtful, to me and to another friend. I was shocked, and furious enough to contemplate booking an early flight back home. Fortunately, I did not book a flight, but I did let myself stay angry for too long. As I held on to the anger, I felt bitterness coming into my heart. Forgiveness isn’t easy– it was, and is, an ongoing process– but my lack of forgiveness was turning me into someone I did not want to become. Which brings us to…

Bonus Lesson #2:  If you can be silly together, fight to keep the love & friendship alive.

5. Know who to call for help when things get tough. I called my mom when I felt myself struggling to decide whether to stay or go on Thanksgiving day. I knew that she would be able to offer some much-needed perspective, and I was right. She told me that I could get through this, that the friendship would survive. She also asked me a very helpful question…

6. Ask, “What would you do if…?” When I didn’t know how to respond to the person who had hurt me, my mom asked, “What would you do if this was someone in L’Arche?” It was a simple question, but it was enough to make me take pause. If this was someone in L’Arche, I knew, I’d have made allowances for the fact that he who had offended me was going through a very stressful time himself. I couldn’t offer mercy in the moment that my mom asked the question, but her words opened my heart to the possiblity. And because of that, I was at least able to mumble, “Okay. Thank you,” when he apologized.

7. No matter what difficulty you’re experiencing, there is always a choice you can make to invite more love into the present moment. And so the question becomes:  what kind of person are you going to be? When my mom told me that I could forgive and rebuild, part of me resisted her. The stubborn, angry part of me thought, “No way! I can’t possibly do that.” But I also felt another part of me rising up, quiet yet insistent. It was the better part of me, the person I want to become. That part said something like:  “Caroline, I know you’re hurt, but you can’t let that hurt make you bitter. That’s not you.”

What I knew deep down in that moment was this:

                                 I Am Not I

By Juan Ramón Jiménez; Translated by Robert Bly

I am not I.

I am this one

walking beside me whom I do not see,

whom at times I manage to visit,

and whom at other times I forget;

who remains calm and silent while I talk,

and forgives, gently, when I hate,

who walks where I am not,

who will remain standing when I die.


What are your life lessons from the Thanksgiving holiday? Tell me in the comments!

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  1. Donna November 29, 2011 at 1:47 AM - Reply

    Another triumph- a tough situation that has turned into a beautiful blossom! Loved your writing and humor touches.

    • Caroline McGraw November 29, 2011 at 2:43 AM - Reply

      Thank you so much! It was a hard time, but it did blossom, somehow ~ I had fun with this post 🙂

  2. susan shannon November 29, 2011 at 3:15 AM - Reply

    Your post reminded me of this quote: Don’t show up as the person you are. Show up as the person you want to be. ~Buddha

    This Thanksgiving reinforced the lesson for me that my friends are my family and my family, though on the opposite coast, are always close at heart; our spirits are intertwined and we are all one. Also, that gratitude exressed for even the smallest act lifts up everyone in ripples.

    Happy Holidays, Caroline!

    • Caroline McGraw November 29, 2011 at 3:34 AM - Reply

      Happy Holidays to you, Susan! And what a great quote for the piece. Appreciated 🙂

  3. Tara November 29, 2011 at 6:24 PM - Reply

    Wow, what a journey – in every sense of the word. I’m glad you were able to reflect on it with joy when all was said and done. And yes, it take so much more energy to harbor bitterness than to forgive. Thank you for that reminder.

    This Thanksgiving I learned the importance of doing what has personal meaning, even if it’s not what is expected.

    Belated holiday wishes to you.

    • Caroline McGraw November 29, 2011 at 6:34 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Tara! (A journey, indeed.) And your post is such a great companion to this one.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours; hope you are enjoying your new space 😉

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