Sunday, June 28, 2020

Just Another Ordinary Day

What day is it?

It may be that Covid 19, which has affected millions of people, has now redefined the meaning of “daily”. Alternatively, it may just be the constant reminders that I am aging, like an irritating and insistent buzzing in one’s thoughts that gets louder and louder. Regardless, over the past several months I have found that each day, while it may have a different name (such as Monday, or Friday), number, and month, has become more regimented and repetitive than ever before. Each day seems to lack serendipity, adventure and distinctiveness. In a phrase, yesterday, today, and likely tomorrow, become “just another ordinary day”. There is limited verve, vigour, energy and excitement in my days as they troop their way through each week. Each day is a soldier, lining up, one by one from left to right, uniformed and marching seven abreast down the calendar until reaching month-end when the page is flipped, and the soldiers disappear only to start the relentless parade down a new page.

Just another ordinary day.

But is it really? Is there any such thing as an “ordinary day”? Perhaps our imprisonment in the “ordinary” is self-imposed. We willingly choose to believe that the door to the cell is closed, but in truth it remains unlocked.  Our freedom to make each day something more than living in a drab cell is our choice.  We need only decide to escape the humdrum interior of our ordinary days. As my parents would remind me on long vacation road trips, “If you are bored, you have no one to blame but yourself”.

I believe that there is no such thing as an ordinary day, except for one of our own making. Instead, every moment is filled with uniqueness. Our days need not drone on like soldiers on parade.

In the same way, there is no such thing as an ordinary person. Just as each day is filled with opportunities and potential, I believe that each person is uniquely qualified to experience his or her journey of days as would an explorer.

C. S. Lewis on Twitter: "“There are no ordinary people. You have ...

Of course, there is security in the routine of an “ordinary day”. It is predictable and safe. In the same way, being an “ordinary person” living “ordinary days” frees us from responsibility to make the most out of life. But we pay a terrible price for enduring the ordinary; guilt, boredom and fear.

What can I do to change my ordinary into extraordinary? My temptation is to fill my calendar with exciting activities. But, like any false promise, these episodic experiences are short-lived. No, much more radical steps are required to ensure that I invest myself, and the hours I have each day, rather than carelessly spending the precious gift of life that I wake up to each morning.

To start, we need to recognize that it is never too late to opt out of ordinariness. The extraordinary is available to us each day. But we must be willing to search for it, to grasp hold of it, to nurture it, and to share it. It might be cleverly hidden in the simple, like a smile that penetrates politeness. Or it might be desperately complex, like taking the initiative to forgive, or seek forgiveness, to right a wrong.

    Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as     long as you look at it in an ordinary human way.           But if you hold it up against the light of God's             goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant     and bright. And then you ask yourself in                     amazement: Is this really my own life I see before     me? Albert Schweitzer.

There is no such thing as ordinary. Each of us, and each day that we live, is extraordinary.



Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Path

No one had cleared the path to the stream that ran behind our house, at least not since my then young children and I had made it minimally passable some 25 years ago. Even then, it was barely discernible as it wound its way through the forest to water’s edge. For a number of years, the rough path had been a source of adventure and discovery, a small pristine valley not easily accessible to anyone other than our family. Recently, I felt the need to explore it again.

As I stood alone looking down the steep pathway, I observed that a lot had changed in a quarter-century. Regardless, I saw no danger. The first portion of the pathway looked easy enough; a 20-foot section down which I slid, my street shoes giving me no grip on the steep incline. About halfway down the embankment I remembered it was here years ago that my kids had tried to make a sled track on a rare snowy day.  Citing safety issues, I was the first to try out the snow-packed run.  I soon found out that I was right to be concerned. There was no easy way to stop the sled ride except by plunging into a huge blackberry patch, minus the leaves but not minus the thorns.

Fortunately, this time I was able to grab a large cottonwood tree trunk to stop my descent and avoid another tangle with the older and much bigger blackberry patch. The tree I was clinging to proved to be a memorable marker as it is where the path took a sharp turn and proceeded laterally across the face of the steep slope. When I started out on that portion of the path, there were only a few smaller twigs and limbs covering up the trail. But as I dropped towards the bottom of the small valley I found that the path was almost completely overgrown. The path seemed to lead in numerous different directions at the same time. Although each of the choices looked promising, they all ultimately led to a dead end amid the dense underbrush, fallen trees and patches of stinging nettles. I could not seem to locate any of the familiar natural markers I had expected to find, like the partly decomposed log I had once stepped on, infuriating the occupants of a wasp’s nest.  The angered wasps proceeded to attack my two younger children, causing frantic screams and burning red welts.  That event became a long remembered, often recited chapter in our family history.

The brush had become so dense that I could not see the river. Instead of the noisy chatter of the water rushing over and around boulders and collapsed tree trunks, all I heard was intermittent gurgling off in the distance. Breaking the relative silence, my cell phone rang. “Where are you?” my concerned wife asked. “In the forest behind the house, but I am not sure where” I replied, “But I’ll be home in a few minutes”.

It was difficult to speed up my pace to reach the river, so I thought I would try walking along a fallen tree, like a bridge lifting me above the dense underbrush and marshy areas. However, one thing that people with Parkinson’s rarely do well is balance. In this case, I proved the point by falling off the log, toppling 3 or 4 feet to the ground, landing unceremoniously on my derrière. The struggle to regain my footing amidst the mud, skunk cabbage and wild rose thorns proved painful and time-consuming. But once on my feet again I was able to get my bearings. I finally found what appeared to be a very small deer path that wove its way along a circuitous route, leading to the riverbank. What would have taken me seven or eight minutes’ years ago, took over 30 minutes, and that was only one way! With no time to enjoy the fruits of my labor, I set off on the return trip.

While the path did bring back memories, it also left me exhausted, with my clothes soaked through with sweat, and my body bruised, scraped and scratched. Indeed, a lot has changed over the last 25 years, on the path and with me!  

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Measuring Life in Three Hour Increments

How do you measure your life?

As a lawyer, I learned early on that each workday was subject to its measurement in six minute increments. That is, generally, we legal types (as well as many others in service industries) seem tethered to the concept of what is called the “billable hour”. Lawyers routinely record their time spent working on a particular matter/file.  Then, their clients are sent invoices showing the number of hours of work performed, multiplied by the hourly rate of the professional.  The hourly rate is usually based on seniority, expertise and market conditions. In this way, the quantity of legal services provided can be measured, albeit somewhat subjectively. But the quality of the billable time is much more difficult to assess. Not all billable hours are equal.

I think most people tend to rely on quantitative intervals or measurements. These include not only increments of time but everything in life from monetary values (salary, cost of gas, bank accounts, and debt) to the number of “likes” we get on our Facebook page. The disruption of these fixed points on our calendar or other quantitative measurements can cause us to feel anxious, uncertain and insecure. At times, especially during this coronavirus pandemic era, days (and even weeks) slip by, blending into each other without much notice. Viewed from a quantitative perspective, life itself is evaporating one day, hour or even minute at a time.

During these recent pandemic days, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of evaluating my life based on qualitative assessments, not the quantity of time spent here and there. I find that, just as it is difficult to measure the quality of a billable hour, appraising one’s life subjectively is very challenging, as well as convicting. This process demands that just as we spend our money on what we deem to be important to us, how we spend our time (life’s ultimate nonrenewable resource) reveals our priorities.

I cannot measure the beauty of a sunset, the warmth of a baby sleeping in my arms, or the smell of freshly baked bread, but I can continuously ask myself, “Have I spent my time simply calculating life’s quantitative elements (such as age), or am I truly living out my life priorities?”  For me, this is not just an existential exercise. It is grappling with the very practical question, “How can I live more purposefully?”