Make the Familiar Unfamiliar


We recently returned from a short trip to my parents’ house. They live on a lake and have a boat. Fun times. But that is a tale for another time.

One highlight we’ve gotten into with this annual lake visit is a daily hailing of the ice cream boat. We stand on the dock on their property waving pool noodles to attract the attention of the ice cream boat as it chugs past our cove. When the kids were little, they loved it. Every day around 4pm, we would listen for the chimes that signaled the approach of the ice cream boat so we could run to our noodles and start waving. The ice cream is that cheap junky kind I’d never buy at home. Yet every summer for that week we eat it (almost) daily on the lake.

This year we made a new discovery: you can hail the ice cream boat on the water too. He’ll pull right up to your boat and hand over the sugary packages. One day, there were three or four other boats following him around trying to catch up and get his attention. He said that always happens right before dinner then it goes totally dead quiet. Really? People on the lake purposefully eat junky ice cream right before dinner? hmmm….

I live in a nice neighborhood with lots of kids. We have an ice cream truck that drives through every day. Yet I’ve never bought any ice cream from the truck. Ever. I’m not even tempted. I would also never buy that same kind of ice cream we get from the ice cream boat at the grocery store: too much artificial junk in it; no nutritional value.

I wonder: why do I enthusiastically eat that junk on the water on vacation when I would never buy or eat it at home? The obvious answer is that vacations are fun and I do all kinds of things I don’t do at home when on vacation. Some activities can transfer back though, right? I have a friend who went on a fabulous trip in Europe and ate chocolate every day at 10am. He and his wife returned home and continue the tradition. I could continue our traveling ice cream moment at home, yet I refuse to do so. Why is that?

The best answer I can come up with is that is has something to do with familiarity. While the ice cream boat is familiar to me now (we’ve been doing this for years – though you may have noticed my kids are conspicuously absent from the picture of getting the ice cream), it isn’t within the environment of total familiarity. It’s still exotic – like that terrible pizza you can buy at the bridge so you can feed the crusts to those giant weird fish that swim in the water by the pier.

Perhaps that’s why so many spiritual practitioners suggest making the familiar unfamiliar again – to regain a sense of wonder and mystery. When it comes to ice cream from ice cream boats, I don’t eat it to nourish my body. I eat it to nourish my sense of fun and adventure.


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