Amos Bronson Alcott, who was a pretty cool dude in his own right, and was the father of Louisa May (which makes him doubly cool), once said “The less routine, the more life.”
This idea – that routine is the death knell of excitement and living – was one of the main reasons I was willing to leave our home, family and friends and set off on this great adventure.
My theory was that the reason it seems like time moves faster the older you get is that you stop having new experiences. Life becomes routine after you’ve crossed off all the “required” experiences: going to school, going to college, getting a job, dating, marrying, having kids. After that every day is the same: get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed – do it all over again then next day. Once or twice a year you get to take a vacation, but, at least while your kids are young, that is more stressful than work and you long to get back to the routine when your kids sleep in their own bed and at a reasonable hour.
I figured if I shook the routine up enough (you know, move to Africa) then time would slow down again and I’d get more life by living in the moment of all these new experiences.
A funny thing seems to be happening though – the new experiences are happening at breakneck speed, but I’m spending the whole time either reminiscing about the past, or worrying about the future. In other words, I’m living less in the moment than I think I was when I was mired in all the deadly boring “routine.”
Case in point. In the past two months, C and I have spent a good bit of time traveling to visit friends and family. We’ve traveled over 3,500 miles since May. We’ve seen several dozen of B’s family members (most in the same place, but still…) and half a dozen of mine – in two different places. I’ve done “girls” weekend in New York and have checked off a large number of visits with assorted friends both here and along the way.
Two of my favorite places in the world were the stopping points on our most recent trip, yet I spent a good bit of time in both those places with my face pointed toward a computer screen finalizing our consumables list, scanning in our important documents, and arguing with the airlines about how to get Miller on a plane to Kinshasa.
I’ve spent a weekend in New York, a week in Maine, a week in Michigan, a week in Canada, and on our drive we stopped by the town where my parents landed in 1970 when they moved to Canada, and in the city where I went to elementary school. We drove along streets where I got lost in the past remembering games of Red Rover and the Wonder Woman Club. We visited several of my high school friends. We ate (or at least I ate) every “favorite” food I thought I might not get for the next two years.
So the last few months have not been particularly routine, but several times I realized that I was not really enjoying the experiences (new and old) and my life, because I was too busy worrying about how many jars of pasta sauce we should bring with us in our consumables, or thinking about how much a Coke and a candy bar used to cost at the corner store in my old neighborhood ($0.26 each).
All of this has made me realize that the danger of this new life of ours is the risk of always looking forward – to the next bid, the next post, the next shipment – or always looking back – to the last post, old friends, or to the things you can’t see, visit or eat – and not, instead, looking around – to the amazing experiences being offered to us at every turn.
We’ve lived in D.C. for 10 months now. I swore I would see a Supreme Court argument, visit the National Archives, go up the Washington Monument – and yet I haven’t done any of it, because I’ve spent a good bit of time here – in this amazing city – thinking about “there” – Kinshasa – and what it will be like when we get there.
So what will happen when I get there? Will I spend all my time thinking about here, D.C.? About Leland and Muskoka, where I had the privilege of spending the last two weeks? About my past? Or about my future and where our next post might be?
Perhaps my goal needs to be to embrace the routine along with the adventure. Maybe a little routine gives our brains the rest they need to stop and look around. Cause you know what another cool (and righteous) dude once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”