I should be more careful about vacation ideas posed by my friends. We could agree that vacation time together was fabulous. We could agree that the Grand Canyon is a spectacular vacation destination. We could not agree on where to stay. I wanted a resort hotel. My friends, nature lovers that they are, wanted to camp. I'd offered a campground stay of not more than two days in a campground near necessaries of showers with hot and cold running water and toilets. My so-called friends countered with the website now appearing on my computer screen.
"Vacation idea?" my friend had typed in the email, complete with a nifty blue link to a place I simply knew would be filled with cabana boys and spa treatments that would turn me into a massaged, salt-scrubbed, and seaweed wrapped vision of relaxed radiance.
Not even close.
My acquaintances’s idea of vacation: Some week-long survival camp in the wilds of a rectangle state. Colorado, I think. Four hours from the airport, real hotels, and any glimpse of civilization as I know and appreciate it. I was mildly interested in an adventure week option the same way I’m mildly interested in people who wear lots of spandex outside the confines of a gym - I’ll look if nothing else garners my attention. Mild interest moved into startled shock when I saw the group treks did not allow toilet paper. Apparently, the guides of these $2000 adventures into the desert to return to our human roots would show us how to use natural alternatives to toilet paper.
Is toilet paper that detrimental to our primitive survivalist roots? Has it made us soft and unable to face hardships that swerve and crash into our lives?
Make no mistake, I’m no fluffy diva who has never trekked into the woods. I grew up on hundreds of acres of Mississippi piney woodland. My sister and I spent many of our days hiking through the woods around our house, planted firmly at the end of a dirt road that washed out with regularity. I’ve peed in the woods before. I’ve built lean-to’s and hiked old logging trails and scaled the walls of abandoned gravel pits. I know all about checking for ticks in intimate crevices after a day in nature. And I’ve used these so-called natural alternatives to Charmin.
As a priest, I’ve taken groups of teenagers on summer mission trips into the Arkansas mountains to learn about global solutions to hunger and into the hurricane-ravaged communities of swampy Alabama and urban New Orleans to rebuild houses and brought them all back alive and with minimal psychological damage. Teenagers. About twenty of them. Driving for hundreds of miles and working in the oppressive, humid summers of the south.
Take that, survival camp leaders.
I am a diva who has trekked into the woods and come out to find I enjoy amenities of invention and innovation, like central air and heat, indoor plumbing, bath salts, NPR, and toilet paper. So I choose vacations where toilet paper is a given. Preferably vacations where the toilet paper is comfy- ridged, magically combined with soothing aloe, and folded into a nice, neat point by the maids in my plush hotel room. Heaven has toilet paper. The good kind. Even, perhaps, dare I say, the really nifty moistened cloths for personal use.
I can at least understand why we couldn’t bring those on the adventure into hell week for $2000. They probably don’t decompose well in nature. I’m sure shade-grown coffee is out, as well as my iPod and filtered water. Comfort in general, and mascara. Only God, Oprah, or the deep love of a man to whom I’m married and who really, really wants to share this experience with me will ever get me on some excursion like this.
Who am I kidding? Only God and Oprah could get me on some adventure trek like this. The man I loved would know better.
For many, though, forces other than God an Oprah are leading them into the wilderness for a fun-filled get away without toilet paper. Lots of survivalist vacation experiences exist. Days and weeks of living off the land. Specialized groups for women only, for men only, for hard-core survivalists only. Learn how to survive the conditions of life. Start fire without matches; eat bugs, twigs, and berries; hike aimlessly for miles; and wipe with leaves.
I’m all for people choosing vacations that make them happy and that recharge their batteries, even if it’s something like this. But survivalist vacations? Nature is often harsh, but more abundant than we think. Humans survived in nature for thousands of years. It’s humanity that makes survival difficult. Here’s a real survivalist vacation: try to live on minimum wage for a month in any major city. Try to find redemption in society if you’re trying to rebuild your world after making some big mistakes that landed you in jail. Try to rear your child in a country that argues with ridiculous insanity about the right of a child to be born, but callously ignores the rights of a child to live with adequate food, shelter, education, and medical care after the baby takes its first breath.
Toilet paper is the least of many people’s worries on a day-to-day basis. Maybe that’s why I find the no toilet paper thing so absurd. Charmin hasn’t made us soft, and living without it for a week or ten days won’t make us better able to survive the travails of life. It would just give me a chapped ass and a bad attitude.
Living without empathy and respect for others - now that’s hurt our survival. Our lives fractured by the idea that our personal experience is everyone’s experience and we have no desire to learn about the lives of others if those lives are harsh, depressing, or troubling. We are damaged when we refuse to see grace and love in the lives of someone who’s made a mistake; someone who has a different view on say, abortion or politics or religion; or someone who has made all the wrong choices and we shout that they don’t deserve our time or dignity.
For some, maybe even for many, surviving in the wilds of nature provides a time where we feel in control and even invincible because we survived in nature. If only the methods for surviving human callousness were as simple as the tips for eating certain bugs for protein and sucking water out of cactus roots. Jesus reminds us that that survival, the basic human survival, is based in love. Do that, my friends, and you'll survive anything.