I went on a wonderful, beautiful vacation this summer. Why, then, was I so uncomfortable?
It has been two years now since my mother died. This summer, my dad invited the whole family on an Alaskan cruise. My four brothers, their wives, and all ten grandchildren were invited on a week’s cruise through the “inner passage” from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska, near Anchorage.
We set sail on a ship with 2,500 other vacationers and around 900 crewmembers.
We traveled up along Canada’s western coast and then made various stops in Alaska. We hiked through incredibly lush forests; some of us flew down the world’s longest zip line.
We saw the dramatic “calving” icebergs from the Hubbard glacier.
At the end of the cruise, most of us spent another three days in a wilderness camp, doing hikes and kayaking. We flew to Katmai National Park by seaplane to see the largest concentration of bears in North America.
Why, then, did a constant feeling of discomfort accompany me on such a dramatic journey?
First of all, it certainly wasn’t because of my family. We’re spread out across the country now, and it was great seeing everyone together. My nieces and nephews are in colleges, or have graduated and have interesting jobs.
It wasn’t the location. Alaska has a wild and beautiful country. I very much enjoyed being on a ship. There is something primordial about being at sea.
My brothers and sisters-in-law work hard and enjoyed the opportunity take a break. The service on the cruise ship was exceptional. There always seemed to be a crew person nearby with a towel, food, drinks or cleaning something.
In retrospect, that service was the basis of my discomfort. I was uncomfortable having 900 servants – most of them from the developing world – at my beck and call. Franciscans have a vocation to be amongst the poor, not to have the poor bring them drinks.
I was also conscious of the fact that the guests of our soup kitchen in Philadelphia don’t have the opportunity to take Alaskan cruises. Most are much too busy struggling with poverty, addiction and/or mental illness.
At the end of the Alaska trip, I came to the realization that being a Franciscan is something I am. It is not something from which I can take a vacation.