Should the President ever go on vacation?

President Obama is being sniped at for being on vacation.  Two NYPD police officers were killed yesterday.  Police officers shooting unarmed individuals remains a source of angry divide in the country.  We’re fighting ISIS.  North Korea attacked an American business through the internet.  Russia is hurtling towards a depression, and blaming us.

All of these issues were not even in the news half a year ago–some weren’t even in the news half a month ago.  Franklin Roosevelt once had a visit from his opponent, Wendell Wilkie, in the Oval Office.  FDR said, Are you sure you WANT this job?  Imagine what it’s like sitting in this seat and getting a shock every ten minutes.

Is there EVER a good time for a President to go on vacation?

Unforeseen issues could keep a President pinned in the White House any time he tried stepping out.

During World War II, FDR went on vacation in April of 1944–for an entire month!  Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about it in No Ordinary Time.  FDR went to the coast of South Carolina for most of April and part of May in 1944.  The President was so weary, he remarked that he wanted to sleep 12 hours a day!

The issue is:  How merciless are we towards our Presidents?

People who don’t like the President–ANY President–whichever one is in office–will begrudge him a vacation.  It’s the easiest thing to cite some pressing crisis–and contrast it with the President lounging at some hideaway.

To deny the President time off, time away, the need for freshment–that’s as heartless as we get towards an opponent.

It isn’t a matter of how important a job is.  Humans still need a break.  We need re-fueling.

I know a neurosurgeon–he used to work at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.  I asked him one time, “How in the world do you get away for vacation?”  In other words, there would NEVER be a time when the work actually paused.  There would NEVER be a time when some child in crisis isn’t being delivered to the hospital.

He replied, “You just GO.”

I’ve thought about that remark.  How humble a person has to be–to admit one’s human condition–that we tire, emotionally as well as physically–we need re-fueling–rather than thinking, “I can never get away, because I alone am needed to solve everybody’s problems.”

One time, I flew to Europe for a vacation.  I would be staying for a couple of months in the former East Berlin.  It was the summer of 1991–only a few months after the reunification of East and West Germany. (I was the guest of a church in East Berlin.)

I had been planning this vacation, wanting it, NEEDING it.

Berlin in those days had become a destination for many, many people throughout poverty-stricken Eastern Europe–looking to take advantage of the city’s fresh, new openness.  This meant–frankly–people begging.  They came from all over to seek a handout from tourists.

One afternoon, I was sitting alone on a bench in one of the large, spacious squares in center-city (East) Berlin, eating a Berlin specialty–a gyro.  A young woman approached me.  She was dressed the way I knew some dressed who had come to Berlin from Romania.  She was a Rom, a gypsy.

She came up to me and asked in a sorrowful voice for money.  She said, “Mutti ist gestorben.” (Her mother had died.)

I did some quick calculating:  “She thinks I’m an easy target.  Why did she pick me out of all the people in this square?  I have no idea if she’s conning me.   Furthermore, I don’t have much money.” (I was living for free in the second-floor apartment of the church that was my host.)

I quietly shook my head.  She walked away,

Heartless?  I don’t know.  But I DO know–I NEEDED a break–I needed time off, time away.  I donated plenty of my meager pastor’s salary to people back in the states.  To use vacation as a time to continue “working”–thinking I need to solve any stranger’s problems–was not a vacation.  It was being heartless–to myself!

There must be a certain measure of humility in a person’s life–lest we think that we alone are needed to solve everybody’s problems.  Part of the humility of accepting one’s self as human is–admitting the need for a break.  We need re-fueling.

Martin Luther once remarked, “We also serving God by taking rest and holiday.”







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