Finding Joy in a Vacation I Cannot Take

Finding Joy in a Vacation I Cannot Take

I’m too sick to travel but can still feel joy for others.


Malia and Mara

The last time I was in New York City was August, 1992. I took my then-teenaged daughter, Mara, to see The Big Apple. Right now, my husband, Tony, is in NYC with Mara's own ten year-old daughter—our granddaughter, Malia.


Tony and Malia are doing the same things that Mara and I did 19 years ago. They're taking in the sights. They're going to Broadway shows. They're riding the subway. They're walking all over Manhattan. Mara and I saw Miss Saigon and The Secret Garden. Tony and Malia are seeing Wicked and Billy Elliot.


Truth be told, I've struggled with my inability to accompany them on this trip. But I can't go. I'm too sick to travel six hours to visit Mara and her family in Los Angeles, so New York is definitely out of my reach at this moment in my life.

So, instead of packing my bags, I've been working on finding joy in this vacation I cannot take.


Observation deck, 1936, photographer unknown

First, I got actively involved in planning the trip by doing research on the web and making reservations for them online. A few weeks ago, I found the site for the Empire State Building because I wanted to see when they could take the elevator to the observation deck.


That site led me to a link where I bought two CityPASS booklets which are allowing them, at a fraction of the cost, to go to half a dozen places—from the Statue of Liberty to the Guggenheim Museum. (If you've read my book, the CityPASS is the equivalent of the museum pass in Paris that allowed Tony and me to go to the front of the line on that day I insisted on going to see the Impressionist paintings at the Musée D'Orsay despite being so sick.)

I found discounted Broadway ticket sites online that displayed the seating charts for each theater, and so I was able to pick the actual seats they'll be sitting in for Wicked and for Billy Elliot. Clicking on those seats to reserve them was a particularly joyful experience for me.


Second, I've been cultivating mudita about this trip I am not on. I discussed mudita in a recent post on what are called the four sublime emotions in Buddhism. These are qualities of mind that can help alleviate our suffering, in this case, my suffering over not getting what I want—going with them to New York.


Mudita means feeling joy in the joy of others. I thought I was in good shape with my mudita practice, that is, until I began getting text messages and emailed pictures from them in New York! The desire to be with them overwhelmed me at first. I could feel it physically as an ache in my stomach. But I could also feel their joy, so I kept practicing.


The essence of mudita is feeling joy just knowing that others are happy and content. And so, I visualize what they're doing each day. It helps that I've been to New York. I know that spiral ramp in the Guggenheim where you walk from the top to the bottom, viewing pictures as you go. Maybe Malia has started running down the ramp. Maybe she's frozen in place in front of a painting that she

can't take her eyes off of, just like she was in this picture I love so much that Tony snapped of her at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.


When I visualize their big adventure, I not only feel joy in their joy but I feel as if the two of them are in New York for me and so I, too, am filled with joy.


Finally, As I was preparing this piece, I realized that just writing about their trip makes me feel, in the smallest but sweetest way, as if I'm there with them.


© 2011 Toni Bernhard  


I'm the author of the How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers , winner of the 2011 Gold Nautilus Book Award in Self-Help/Psychology


I can be found online at

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