The Law of Inertia


If your high school curriculum included a course in physics, you have at least a passing knowledge of Newton’s Laws of Motion. One of those laws, commonly known as the law of inertia, in its simplest form states that objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to remain at rest. In other words, unless acted on by some force, objects continue to do what they were doing in the first place.

This law speaks to me beyond the context in which it is usually cited. Let me explain. We are planning a vacation trip with our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter Dalia during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the only time besides summer when the very school-based part of our family is free to travel.

The destination, the island of Curacao, is less common for Americans than for Europeans, particularly the Dutch who have a historical connection to the country, until recently commonly called the Netherlands Antilles. I was first drawn to it when I read that the island housed one of the first, if not the very first, synagogue in the Americas, particularly notable for its dirt floor. Good friends have traveled there more than once and have touted the beaches and the snorkeling options. Truth to tell, Rosellen and I are not beach or water people, but we thought the younger members of our contingent would enjoy the sun and the sand, a welcome relief from the chilly northern winter.

I need to state the obvious here. We are so grateful to be able to consider this trip and all the others that we’ve made in the past. It’s the definition of privilege. Any grumbling that follows here is rooted in a deep sense of gratitude and a recognition that so many others as worthy and worthier than we are struggling to pay for their essential car repairs.

Still, we need to relish the time we are able to spend with our family, but here’s where the law of inertia enters. There comes a point in the run up to each trip – and we’ve been fortunate to have done a lot of them –when I am beset by doubts about why we’re doing it all. We’re fortunate enough to live a life that has many small pleasures. We’re creatures of habit and the rhythm of our daily lives, down to our plans for the evening’s TV watching, provide us with many satisfactions. So, why, I ask myself, are we going to all this trouble of upending those time-tested habits in favor of uncertainty and its attendant anxieties?

Of course, the answer is obvious. The rewards of new experiences and adventures are huge. Yet it doesn’t feel that way while you’re battling the airline schedules which have become even more burdensome and markedly more costly since the start of the pandemic. Then there’s booking a place to stay, renting a car and beginning to piece together an itinerary. This includes booking restaurants for at least some of the nights to ward off the dangers of everything either being shut down during Christmas season or overrun by tourists like us.

Years ago, we landed with both our daughters on the island of Favignana, off the coast of Sicily, on the day before Christmas. When we ventured out on a cold and rainy Christmas day to find a place to eat, we drew a complete blank. A gentleman who recognized us from the mainland – we had asked him for directions to the ferry – took pity on us and invited us to his home where he prepared a simple pasta dinner, wine included, of course which tasted better under the circumstances than a meal in a five-star restaurant.

Butone can’t count on such good fortune, so the research proceeds. After the restaurants, there are the must-see sites, the best beaches, the kind of electrical outlets favored by that country, the immigration documents required for entry, the kind of paraphernalia to purchase for the unique needs of the places you’re visiting – in this case, water shoes to protect your feet from the island’s rocky beaches. We’ve been fortunate enough to have two local residents to advise us on many of these details, as well as the friends here in Chicago who have been there before.

As I’m generating this exhausting list of trip preparations, I’m remembering things I’ve omitted, like where to park your car at the airport in the holiday season. One year, unaware that this could be a problem, we found all the parking areas full and were able to find a motel which allowed us to park in their lot just as we were running out of time to catch our flight. And how do we shop for groceries when we arrive at a time when the stores are closing for Christmas? The list of petty necessities is endless.

 I suppose this is why people opt for cruises or book tours where all these details become someone else’s headache. We’re allergic to group tours, but have opted for individual tours on several occasions, once to Vietnam and Cambodia and once to South Africa. But the truth is that there’s pleasure in all the planning pain. All this effort buys you a sense of ownership in the adventure. Like the woodcutter who is warmed twice – once in the cutting and once in the burning – you are rewarded twice, once in the problem solving and once in the experience itself.

And it can all be undone by an ill-timed snowstorm or a renewed Covid outbreak, which is what happened to us last year when, after all the above steps, we canceled our trip to Puerto Rico during the same season because the pandemic had come roaring back. There’s no guarantee that some other evil spirit isn’t lying in wait to trip us up again.

The amazing thing is how quickly all these travails fade when you’re inside the adventure itself and it’s all but completely forgotten by the time you’re home and constructing the elevator speech to represent the experience to the friends and family who demand an accounting. By then you’ve sloughed off all the troubles that preceded the trip and many of the small glitches during the trip that don’t fit the narrative of the ideal journey.

We’re still a couple of weeks away from the Curacao trip. A lot of the groundwork has been done, but we’re in the dangerous inertia period when the reason for all this effort sometimes escapes us. I’ll check back with you on the other side of the adventure and you can hear my sanitized elevator speech.

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Marv Hoffman
By Marv Hoffman

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