(Santa Barbara, California) For a little over a week now, my wife and I, along with two other couples that we’ve been friends with for just about forty years, have been slowly working our way down the coast of California from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where I will be officiating at a wedding.
In a rented van that was designed for rock bands (lots of room for our “gear” in the back!), we have happily played the role of tourists, and, I dare say, we’ve enjoyed every minute.
Both my wife and I have done this trip before, so honesty obliges me to say that we’re not seeing these amazing sights for the first time. But the twenty-one years that have elapsed since the last time have made it all seem brand new, sort of like rediscovering amazing pleasures that we’ve loved but forgotten.
If you’ve done this trip before, you know of what I speak. Monterey, Carmel, San Simeon, and most of all, I think, Big Sur… Just when you think you’ve seen the most beautiful vistas that you can imagine, you come around the bend and a new one takes your breath away. I have to admit that, on more than one occasion, I found myself holding out my two hands as if to compare and muttering “Let’s see, Queens Boulevard, or Big Sur…”. Not too much of a competition there, at least in terms of physical beauty. Who am I kidding. No competition at all!
What is really worthwhile about a trip like this- really about any vacation, but especially about one that takes you to a place so different from where you live- is that it forces you to focus in on what it is about your life that (assuming it is so) makes it not only worth living, but actually the life that you want to be living. If that focus escapes you when you engage the exercise, then you’ve got the makings of a real existential crisis. Going home will fill you with dread, because you’ve have a taste of the life you want to be living, and what awaits you is not that life.
I’m a lucky man. I can’t think of a moment of this trip that I haven’t loved, and there have been more than a few that I will never forget. Just having the chance to spend such quality time with good friends has been its own reward, and being able to do that in such magnificent surroundings has been a bonus.
But the happy truth is that I have no trouble at all identifying the pieces of my life that make it pleasurable and rewarding. I love New York. In fact, I’m one of those people who believes that you really have to love it to live there happily. I’m blessed with a wonderful and gratifying family, a job that, after almost thirty years, continues to challenge me and is endlessly interesting, and all the blessings of Jewish New York that make it a great place to be a Jewish professional there. It’s like no other place in the world…
So is Big Sur- no doubt about it. I wish that every New Yorker, myself very much included, could get a regular injection of it’s grandeur and majesty so as to balance out the confining nature of my concrete jungle. But I think that when all is said and done, I’m a city boy, and a lucky one at that.
Great vacation… Just great. But a great life, too.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is spiritual leader of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation