--Henri J. M. Nouwen
There is something about life on an island.
The last sixteen summers I've been blessed to spend one week on an island off the New England coast. And so every August I pack up my bike and my books and head out. Boarding the ferry, I stand on the back of the rocking vessel as it slices through whitecaps and salt-tinged air, and watch as the mainland fades away. It is always a bit startling as a flatlander to find myself in the middle of the ocean, as home fades into the distance. From horizon to horizon is now only water.
Then slowly, after an hour or so, a diminutive spit of land emerges in the midst of a vast blue pool. The buzz on the boat builds as we get closer and closer to the dock. We land lubbers then jockey to get off the ferry and finally feel our feet touch land again in the sweet knowledge that, at least for awhile, we’ve left, gone, departed, exited, vamoosed. There are no quick jaunts over a bridge to get back. No quick turnaround.
It took awhile to get here. We’ll stay now.
For the next seven days and nights my world is contained in a grey-shingled ranch, set back from the road, with Adirondack chairs scattered on a shady back porch and a bike path right out front. A special place where my cell phone doesn't always work, or better yet, I turn it off. Where the newspaper gets delivered by boat, and by the time it arrives I may not care for the latest headlines--just save me the crossword. Where there is no TV (except for the Red Sox) and only one landline phone. Where a sea breeze can cool down even the hottest of afternoons. Where a lighthouse in the distance is the most beautiful nightlight I've ever seen. Where a stack of books awaits me.
Days are filled with bike rides and beach walks and browsing bookstores. Evenings mean dinner off the grill or a fancy meal out. Later there’s time for raucous board games with friends and family around an ancient dining room table. No set time to go to bed or awaken either.
I am away.
That is what I love most about island life: being really, truly, fully, away. All humans desperately need these "away" times: regular and consistent “white space” to sleep and to pray, to sit and to be silent, to listen and spend time with loved ones, to finally just rest and just be. My away escape is an island. What is yours’? A lonely cabin in lush green mountains, a tent by the seashore, a hotel room downtown, a hammock in the back yard, or centerfield seats at Fenway Park?
Place matters less than space: whatever we do or where ever we go away, we just need to give our brains and bodies and spirits a break. In summer, it is as if we breakneck paced northeasterners finally wake up to this spiritual truth. Remember we all just need to chill out, wind down and so we go away. We must go.
And then when we gaze up into a jet black night sky with twinkling stars, or hug our kids on the blanket as the sun goes down, or do whatever it is we must do to relax, we might actually encounter God and the stillness necessary to remember our connection to this big place called Creation.
“Be still,” the universe whispers. “Just for awhile.”
There is something about life on an island. In these closing days in the summer of 2016, may all of us find our islands, quiet centers in the midst of our far too often cacophonous and crazy lives. Get away. You’ve still got time.
There, God may be waiting just for you.