I had that marvelous experience that the world is indeed a small place this past week while I was on vacation. I was with my mom in Turks and Caicos for a much needed and big deal vacay for both of us. About a year ago, I was helping my mom to sell her house—and my childhood home. She said that when the house was finally sold that she wanted to take me on a warm weather beach getaway. And so when the house finally sold in June of 2016, we scheduled a winter trip to the Caribbean. It was a far off date and hard to imagine but finally February 2017 rolled around and we were off for our trip. (For my personal take on the trip, see Beach Trips With My Mom).
I had been to Turks and Caicos with my husband Andy before so I was somewhat familiar with the area though we were staying at a condo new to me. But my mom had never been to the Caribbean. And my mom and I had never traveled so far away together so it was a bit of a stretch for us—a good stretch—but a stretch nonetheless.
The very first day we were there, I went for a swim in the meandering pool at the resort where we were staying. Round and round I went doing what was essentially one endless lap. I tend to get into a fairly meditative state when doing laps and the warm tropical weather helped to further relax me.
I was taking in my surroundings while doing my laps when I glanced over at a family sitting under umbrellas and felt a sense of extreme calm. As I looked at the young mom who was putting sunscreen on her baby, I felt a strong attraction and even a longing. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and I continued on my way. As I took another turn around the pool I looked at her again and thought, “She is so very familiar.” But I dismissed it figuring perhaps she was from TV or looked similar to someone on TV. Whoever she was, she gave me a warm, cuddly, comforting sensation, even though I was far from home and in a somewhat unfamiliar setting.
A few days went by and then I saw her again at the pool. As I swam laps I took her in again and I finally made the connection. She was someone who I had worked with but hadn’t seen in probably five years or so. No wonder I felt such a sense of comfort. There is something so reassuring about seeing someone familiar when you are in an unfamiliar setting. Later that day I went up to her and said hello. She was delighted and I was delighted as we embraced and caught up for a few minutes. The feeling of running into someone you know when you are about 1,300 miles from home is such a lovely mixture of surprise, relief, amazement of the smallness of the world, and wonder at the serendipity of life.
This got me to thinking about the benefits of comfort with the familiar. I looked up the word familiar and most of the synonyms had a beneficial bent: acquainted, friendly, aware, used to, at home with. These words all definitely capture the positive feelings I had of seeing someone who I knew in an unfamiliar place. But sometimes having feelings of familiarity can keep you stuck in one place, afraid of making changes, and that can be not so good.
In the synonyms for familiar one meaning that really stood out to me was customary. When something is customary it may be usual, normal, routine, habitual, expected or typical. Not that there is anything wrong with habitual occurrences in life. In fact, having routines and habits adds a great deal of joy to life. But if you always lean towards the comfort of the familiar and of what is customary and you avoid taking risks, you may be missing out of some experiences that will make you grow. And when you stretch yourself beyond your fears, you might find that your fears aren’t founded.
The key as with so much in life is balance. Enjoy the comfort of familiarity and also stretch yourself. The trip to Turks and Caicos ended up being a perfect mixture of familiar and unfamiliar. I stretched by traveling further with mom but I chose a location that I was used to. And I had the added luck of running into an old colleague for an extra dose of comfort.