I have a number of friends in school at the moment, enduring the last five weeks of classes, exams, studying, senior projects, with the expectation that soon they will be graduated and moving on to either graduate school, the work force, or sometimes a much-needed break. “I’m almost there,” is the common statement. “Five more weeks to go” or “just one more year now.” And then the stress, the hectic and demanding schedule will be over and they can relax a bit.
Many others, though not in school, find themselves in similar situations. Even I am uncertain if my writing efforts will prove to be a monumental flop or a potential success and career. I cannot predict what the future holds. One friend is waiting for a new job to start. Another is waiting for the economy to pick up so he can stop worrying about losing his job or working absurdly long hours and not daring make a complaint. “This can’t last forever,” “I’ll know soon,” or my favorite: “as soon as I have some more money saved” are expressions I hear often and frequently use myself. Regardless of our transience or our commitment to a determined plan, we are all waiting, in a holding pattern, and extremely eager for one thing to end and another to begin. The expense is that we overlook now. It is probably best described as being overly forward-thinking. We fixate so much on the future that we completely neglect the present.
My dream of a Tuscan home overlooking the Mediterranean, however glorious and inclusive of others, will very likely never come to fruition. Nor will my “bucket list” quest to visit all seven continents at least once. They are terribly grandiose, ambitious, and require money and time I may not have.
What every one of my statements, and the statements of other distill to is this brief conversation:
“Are you happy?”
“No, but I’m sure I will be soon.”
We are blatantly ignoring the fact that we should find some contentment in the present. We are also presuming that we shall not be happy until certain milestones are reached and passed. Life isn’t milestones, though; it’s a journey. There may be no definitive landmarks at all – or at least not until we look back and can actually recognize that at some distant point we finally “got” something or achieved something. Milestones will be few. It would be behoove us to learn to enjoy some of the present.
My concern is that if I continue like this – constantly looking over the present and towards the future, I will spend my life presuming realized dreams and some degree of satisfaction are right around the corner. That’s anticipatory, however, and there’s no peace in it. Besides, what guarantee do I have that the achievement of some milestone is going to somehow make me suddenly content? That’s awfully presumptuous.
So, though my free time may be scant at present and I’m very much looking forward to whatever this summer offers, I will seek to find some enjoyment in what I do today. I will relish the 45 minute dance lesson and simply take some satisfaction in the fact I’m leading a bit now, not just struggling to avoid my partner’s feet. I will enjoy the coffee shop here, and not focus on how nice it will be when I have my own, quieter place. I will listen with interest as a man behind me explains what’s in coffee to his young daughter – in Spanish. I will wonder with curiosity where the lady nearly bellowing at the doorway is from. It sounds eastern European. I will enjoy my coffee and the Bellamy Brothers emanating softly from the speakers. I will strike up a conversation with somebody, and not get annoyed when the soccer mom a few tables over lets both her little children use the coffee shop as jungle gym. I will hand her a napkin when the child runs by covered in chocolate cake. When the woman outside the window walks by again speaking sharply to the little movie ticket in her hand, I will wonder why it’s so important, not chalk her up as crazy and yearn for a quieter, saner, clime.
Robert Frost didn’t wax poetically about visiting the place less visited-by. Instead, he wrote about taking the road less traveled-by. It was a road. Not a place, a milestone, or an event. Contentment isn’t at the end of the semester, or the year, or a new job or marriage. Other stresses and conflicts will simply replace the ones we’ve put behind us. Life isn’t down the road somewhere, barely visible; it is here, and now, and I don’t want to miss it. Tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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