Grace Epiphany Church, 224 E. Gowen Ave. in East Mt. Airy, is one of the many spectacular sights in Northwest Philly whose beauty can be uplifting if one slows down enough “to smell the roses.”

Grace Epiphany Church, 224 E. Gowen Ave. in East Mt. Airy, is one of the many spectacular sights in Northwest Philly whose beauty can be uplifting if one slows down enough “to smell the roses.”

by John Colgan-Davis

One of the great things about being on vacation is that I get to use and experience my time in many different ways. During our “normal” lives, work and responsibility control our clocks, and what we see and experience and do is somewhat limited by that. But vacation gives us a chance to live in our times differently. Times when we would regularly be working we can be doing other things in different places and in different ways.

Of course, we do have to make sure that our vacations are really vacations; sometimes we can get caught up in having the type of vacation that mirrors our work life, with having too much packed into too short a time, having too much of a schedule to keep and in the end, having a “vacation” that is more like our regular work lives than a “break.”

I like to remember the root of the word “vacation,” from the Latin “vacationem: empty, leisure, freedom, vacant.” I want to feel vacant, as free as possible and absent from as many of my normal responsibilities as I can be.

To many people vacation means travel, and I love to travel. But this summer I have been discovering the joys of staying home and still vacating. I have been able to experience time at home in different ways this summer, and it is quietly amazing.

I have written in earlier articles about the joys of my early summer mornings. 6 a.m. does not find me walking to the train station to go to work. Instead, on most mornings, 6 a.m. finds me walking around Mt. Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill, looking at gardens, seeing birds and insects, looking at the clouds and the remnant of the moon, easing into my day and noting things about these wonderful neighborhoods that I have never noticed before despite being around them for two decades.

And the noticing and the walking have added an immense amount of joy to my days. I start the day feeling awake, aware and in a state of wonder and presence. It is really special. But I am also learning to re-experience my evenings as well.

Instead of rushing through dinner to get to marking papers and making class plans, I can make a leisurely dinner (often grilled), sit outside in the garden with my wife and have wonderfully slow and relaxed meals, talking with my wife, watching the bird feeders and taking in the spectacular garden that she has designed and maintained.

It is a totally different sense of what dinner means and of the evening. And as in the morning, when we slow down, we notice more. We have time to have full conversations and talk about our day. We look up at the sky and see the chimney swifts and the patterns of the clouds.

We can track the different shades of blue in the sky as darkness approaches. We see the moon as crepuscule (twilight) arrives and passes. And we watch as the wrens, purple finches, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, robins and more visit the seed and suet feeders.

It is as if we are transported, and this familiar place takes on a whole new feel and look. We have vacated our norms and allowed something slightly different into our lives. And it feels great.

So whether you are traveling or at home, I hope that you and yours have some chances this summer (or at any time) to vacate and to experience old things and places in new and different ways.

Every now and then I think we need to have things changed up a bit so that we can look at the familiar with new eyes. And often when we do that, we get back some things we never expected. And surprise can be a very special and wonderful thing. Happy vacation.

John Colgan-Davis is an unofficial ambassador for Mt. Airy, a teacher, deep thinker and harmonica player for The Dukes of Destiny, the region’s best rockin’ blues band.