In 'Lila', Robert Pirsig's follow up to 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', Phaedrus, the narrator, notes how we all create constructions about our lives that blind us to the deeper qualities of the world around us. Our everyday habits, routines, clichés, etc, all act as cushions and blinds that keep us sheltered from reality by creating around us our own, comforting bubble of pseudo reality. But when illness or disaster strikes - we lose a job, or a loved one, or we wind up in hospital after a car crash - these constructions are torn away, and we glimpse the world in all its reality, beauty, ugliness, joy and horror. Being taken out of our quotidian existence gives us a chance to gain insight into our world, our lives and the lives of others - however fragmentarily and briefly.
I actually think in practice lots of other things do this in less dramatic ways - and one of them is holiday (or vacation if you are from over The Pond). Having just had two spells of holiday book ending August - two weeks camping on Chesil Beach and an extended weekend at home - I have come back with new perspectives on lots of things, not least how much I really enjoy being with my family.
Because my work routine usually brings me home only in time to have an hour or so's interaction with my children each night - when all four of us are tired and irritable - and gives my wife and I only a few minutes of interaction that are mostly focussed on domestic matters, followed by an exhausted collapse into TV, a book, the Internet or sleep (sometimes all four simultaneously!), anything that breaks that routine and allows us to spend a whole day together not solely obsessed by domestic routine, is a minor revelation.
I discover my son has a wry, almost ironic sense of humour (not bad for a five year old), my eldest daughter is a budding artist and author, and my youngest is madly extrovert and just a little bit domineering, as well as very, very funny. And I keep re-discovering new depths and surprises in my wife that keep me falling back in love with her.
Some people find these times with family just a source of stress - and I can see that. I get stressed with them all at times too. And they with me in equal (if not greater) measure. But it's been like a voyage of re-discovering my family this summer - and its made me want to take time out to do this more often.