Wrong Turns Can Be Good … err, Great

This week’s prompt for Random Writers is to write about the difference between existing and living.  For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind was Bugs Bunny.

We’ve all seen it a million times.  Bugs pops his head up after having tunneled underground, looks around, scratches his head as if lost, and utters, “I knew I should have taken a left turn in Albuquerque.” This week’s prompt is about the difference between just going somewhere and enjoying the trip along the way.

All too often in life, the pace of the day to day can cause the weeks to blur and the years to pass. For some reason, this effect seems to be exponential the older we get. As a kid, summer breaks were an eternity. As an adult, a week’s vacation tends to be over before it starts.

How is it that we go from the delighted consumption of life as children to a “what’s next?” dismissiveness as adults?  At what point does the joy get replaced with the urgency, the little things with the big plan?

To me, existing is easy. You wake up. You go to work. You come home. You have dinner. You go to sleep.  Living is just like existing, except that along the way from step 1 to step 10 in your routine, there are moments of meaning that make those steps more than just items on a to-do list. Sometimes it really can be as simple as stopping to smell the roses.

Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” solution to this question. In fact, nothing in life is “one size fits all.” That’s what makes life life. It’s the uniqueness of our own experiences, and what may be living for me can simply be existing for someone else. That’s the beauty of the question, the fact there is no absolute answer.

I watched a presentation recently during which the orator explained how good is the opposite of great. He said we don’t have enough great schools in our country because we have so many good schools. We don’t have as many great moments in our lives because we have so many good moments. This idea really stuck with me, and it got me to thinking of how content I am with all the good in my life, and how that often prevents me from attempting to find greatness in what I do.

So when you ask yourself what the difference is between existing and living, think about all the good things in life that may keep you from being great. I do believe the answer can be found somewhere in there.

Reflections

The start of a new year is usually filled with joy and excitement. Plans, goals, resolutions: there’s a lot of looking forward going on this time of year. Conversely, there’s a good amount of time spent looking back.

For me, these past couple of weeks following the holiday period have been a bit like setting the cruise control to the speed limit and driving in the right lane of the highway. No real rush to get anywhere and lots of other cars speeding past me.

That’s not to say my holidays weren’t great. They were. It’s just that relative to others, I feel I’m in more of a “just happy to be here” mode. Actually, it’s more of a “I’m so blessed to be here” mode.

This past Sunday, our pastor asked us to reflect on five things in 2011 that seriously impacted our lives. At first, I couldn’t think of anything. Then, once I wrote down the first item, I couldn’t stop jotting down dates and events that really affected my life – both positively and negatively – in the previous year.

There were issues with work, both getting mapped to a new organization and then finding myself having to go to New York for work stoppage duty. My wife had some work turbulence of her own, but nothing that compared to the emotional instability of dealing with the trial of the man who caused the death of her cousin.

Those difficult and trying times were offset by the wonderful memories of 2011. We shared a beautiful trip to Mexico with my kids. My daughter made the competitive district soccer team, and her practices and games have been a key part of our week-to-week since. Both of my children continue to excel in the classroom, and I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a tutor at an inner-city school here in Tampa.

There have been ups and there have been downs, but for the most part, my life has been pretty even keel for some time now. And that’s the blessing. That is what I am so thankful for.

What prompted me to reflect on this, and consequently write about it, is an email I received from my high school track coach. It was an email telling us how she’s doing in her battle with cancer. Her tone was gracious and surprisingly upbeat. Yet, I could only image the fear and frustration that comes with overcoming one type of cancer only to be diagnosed with another type of cancer.

As my coach, she taught me how to stay focused. She taught me how to not give up. To tell my mind to keep pushing even though the rest of my body just wanted to stop. To this day, whenever I struggle with laziness to get a task done, or I just feel like throwing my arms in the air and saying, “fuck it!”, I can still hear her voice – that same voice that echoed across the track at Tropical Park in Miami as I came around turn four – compelling me to keep going. “C’mon, Gil!” Her voice is forever etched into my memory, and it has helped forge who I am today.

Now I wish I could do the same for her. Encourage her to keep persevering in the same way she encouraged me.

I know it’s not the same. Running a mile versus taking on cancer. They don’t even compare. My challenge was physical. Her challenge is physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. All the yelling and cheering in the world wouldn’t make an impact.

There’s only one thing that can. Prayer.

So as I set my cruise control in the right lane and observe all the other cars as they pass me by, all I can say is, “God, thank you for allowing me to be where I am today, and please watch over those embarking on their journeys toward tomorrow.”

We all know someone who’s going through a tough time right now. Be a cheerleader for them by making sure you keep them in your prayers.