Carpe Diem

On Friday it snowed 6 inches in Maquoketa, squelching any fantasy I may have had that this winter would be a mild one.  It was a perfect day to snuggle up in bed with a good book and my two dogs to keep me company.  But since the buck stops with me at our satellite campus and I live five minutes away, snow days are seldom an excuse for me to miss work.

If I had to, I could walk to school, even though no student in their right mind would venture out to meet me there.  On rare occasions I do get the 5am call from the main campus to say we’re closing, but our college is not as quick to close as other institutions.  We want to make sure students get their money’s worth even though the typical student reaction to school closing remains the same from kindergarten to college.  It goes something along the lines of, “Yessss!!”  This is especially true if a paper is due or an exam scheduled.

One of the skills I’ve come to appreciate immensely at midlife is learning to surrender to the present moment.  If life (not to be confused with DQ) sends you a blizzard, gather the coworkers who made it to work and order in pizza.  Savor the break in routine and the chance to slow down and reconnect.

Surrendering is a skill that takes a lifetime to master and I lay no claim to being close to mastery. However, I am convinced every obstacle, every irritant, every time I don’t get my way, I get to practice this skill. 

Because of the nature of my work, January and August are full of opportunities for me to practice.  At the end of the day though, when the snow settles and my younger snow dog Abbey and I take an aerobically challenging walk by the river where the snow has yet to be plowed, I remind myself in this moment, life is good. There is much to celebrate.

I’m not a big fan of snow, but this snow is beautiful.  I’m not a big fan of cold, but the crisp air does seem to snap me out of whatever funk I had been experiencing from spending too much time in my head and not enough in my body.  I’m also acutely aware that by morning, the untouched snow that is sparkling so spectacularly under the street lights will turn to a dirty grey slush that will make driving more manageable but walking less so.  Consequently, carpe diem is my motto as we walk in this winter wonderland.

In order to seize the day you have to be fully present for it.   Have you ever driven somewhere and wondered how you got there?  Have you ever left your house and wondered if you left the iron on, the bird cage open even though you’re cat sitting for your sister, or your cell phone in the charger? 

Sometimes we go unconscious doing routine things.  Other times we go unconscious when we’re out of our comfort zone and a little frazzled by current events.   I can lose my boarding pass at least five times from the ticket counter to the gate.  And I consider myself a frequent flyer.

The key for me seems to be to catch myself going unconscious and bring myself back into the moment.  In the midst of frantically searching for my boarding pass, I can acknowledge that I am a little nervous and calmly talk myself down from the ledge of lunacy.  I can remind myself my boarding pass is most likely in the  trip wallet I bought specifically for it because I tend to lose track of it when I get anxious.

About a month ago I had an advising appointment with a student at 4pm.  At approximately 3:50 we suspected a gas leak outside our building.  When I told the student I’d need to address this issue first he handed me his cell phone with the gas company’s emergency number on speed dial.  He had recently been involved in a similar situation at his job and knew exactly what to do.  Within moments we had the building evacuated and a technician from the gas company on his way. 

We have procedures in place for emergencies.  But in that moment, this student expedited the process by offering up exactly what was needed.   If I had not realized this student had as much to offer me as I had to offer him, I would have complicated matters and delayed the process.

We think we have to have all the answers.  As advisors, elders, parents, caregivers, coaches, politicians, neighbors, and friends, we are often expected or paid to.  Yet we can only know what’s best if we know what’s really being asked.  And to know that we have to be present to what is being asked of us now, not autoresponding to what we believe we’ve heard a hundred times before.

I’m reading a marvelous book by Martha Beck called Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. In order to help us navigate the wild new world we find ourselves in, she suggests four practices, the first of which is dropping into wordlessness.  That’s not an easy thing for a wordsmith or anyone with an inner Chatty Cathy to do.  But I do believe that’s where the present offers up its gifts. 

Like 6 inches of snow.

Despite what might be currently causing you grief, what gifts is the present offering you that you might want to seize this very day?

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