A Lion, A Witch & A Wardrobe: Our Family Trip to Stratford

Stratford, Canada
Stratford, Canada

The theater was spectacular, with regal spotless carpet beneath our feet and a glowing chandelier strung high above the main floor. On the stage, large screens and handmade sets alternated, with actors moving the evergreens and standing behind them rather than stage-hands designed to be invisible but quite easily seen.

The lion, Aslan, representative of the son of God himself, was papier-mache and cranks as two men hid inside the contraption, moving his legs in ways that made him look authentically running and roaring on stage. The acting, of course, was superb.

We sat in the dark on a summer afternoon, allowing ourselves to be delighted by storytelling and amazed by movement and happy at the end as everything worked out as it usually does.

This week was supposed to be a go-away vacation for my family of six. But after a beach week and five days Up North, and then a week of the children driving to New York with their father, they didn’t want to go away yet again.

Too much of a good thing.

So except for the overnight in Stratford, Ontario, with the play tickets we had purchased months ago, we canceled everything else planned for our travels and created a stay-cation week of wonder.

It’s the best thing we could have done.

Stratford was an adventure and exploration of a quaint Canadian town not far from where we live, driven to through serene countryside populated by farms and small local diners where they serve poutine when your 10-year-old is hungry an hour from the destination.

Cedar Canoe Bow on a Misty LakeBut then we returned home and the return was delightful. We crossed the expanse of the Bluewater Bridge and stepped onto American soil, knowing this is where we live.

It’s one thing to go through the motions of a life. To show up for work, check things off a list, buy the groceries the children are requesting, wash clothing and fold it just so.

It’s another thing to truly live. Do you understand the difference?

Some days I do, but some days I forget to distinguish and then I fall into bed at the very end, more exhausted than tired, from the effort of it all.

Not this week and not after the events of recent days. Yesterday, we kayaked along canals leading to the wavy Detroit River, nosed through floor after floor of the largest used bookstore in the country, if not the world, and ate at a downtown restaurant that literally had something for everyone.

Today, we will swim in a Great Lake and traipse over a suspension bridge in a small town. Tomorrow, fruit-picking. Thursday, a long-awaited exhibit at a favorite museum.

Last night, three of the children invited friends to our backyard and we grilled hot dogs and veggie burgers. We shredded cabbage for cole slaw, boiled farmers market corn and lit a campfire with music blaring so we could roast marshmallows and peer at the bulbous cucumbers finally budding in our garden.

Marshmallow on a stick with fire in backgroundEveryone was happy, together. The play we saw told the story of children climbing into a wardrobe and finding a whole different world. It was about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, about being open to the possibility.

Apparently, when C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien refused to listen to passages from the new story at writing workshops the two attended together. In fact, he refused to attend as long as Lewis was reading from his new work.

A critic wrote that one of the best parts of this story is that the main characters’ best qualities as children become their defining characteristics as adults.

I’ve often pondered how we are who we are meant to be early on, and some of that falls away as we get older and force ourselves onto paths that lead to wealth or fame or other people’s satisfaction. And then we clamber to return to the original core of who we were, to find it by shedding the many outer layers we’ve piled on as comfort but which really derail our entire lives.

Closeup of family feet in wool socks at fireplaceIn the end, who we are at the core and how we spend our days is what matters. I am realizing that I would rather sleep in my own bed and watch a TV show on Amazon Prime with my 14-year-old, than travel the globe in search of awe and satisfaction.

It’s always right here at home. We just have to be able to see it.

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