It is so easy to speed through life.
While driving between patients today my wife sent me a text message saying that a patient we share is being placed on hospice care. His cancer is metastasizing and we are no longer needed on the case.
This is not the first time either of us have had to deal with death, but for some reason this news found me particularly sensitive.
Life as a traveler is exciting – fast paced, new experiences, new people – all of which make for great stories and memories. But in between the frenetic, the new, the shiny, the “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, is the mundane. 500 mile/week commutes, long hours documenting, even a few cantankerous patients (believe it or not).
I have found myself struggling as of late to maintain perspective. We have been in the same location now, off and on for nearly 9 months. The newness has worn off, and stacked against a high-light reel of the last 3 years as travelers our day-to-day lives seem shockingly dull.
But then I received Ellen’s text.
Feeling even more contemplative than usual, I decided to take the long way to the next patient I was seeing, living in the next town over. Cruising the freeway, passing my usual exit, I made my way straight for the ridge line ahead. Turning onto a thin meandering strip of asphalt and gravel that winds past a few vineyards, pastures, and forest service land, I allowed myself to take in the world passing by.
The suns morning rays piercing sharp through the lingering fog from the night before. A fleeting pale gray puff of a coyotes tail whooshing through the tall golden grasses. Prairie dogs pop up out of their holes, noses to the sky, alerted by my passing truck. Even the semi-desiccated evergreens took on a different and more interesting shade of green as I summited the ridge and headed downhill to my next patients home. With every twist in the road and crest of a hill, new wonders seemed to be laid out before me.
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
As the miles clicked by on the odometer so too were these special moments. Driving my mind further into its already deeply contemplative state, I was struck by the uniqueness that inhabits the time between the seconds. The in-between moments, that, while majestic and beautiful, are so often overlooked. Trivial passages of time that serve only to connect the “important things” – things that can be labeled and scratched onto a calendar. Past and future events seem so palpable and concrete in our minds, but in reality are only memory or fantasy. We create these illusions so vividly that we miss the one moment that actually exists – now. The present is the only blip of time that we control. In this moment, right now, we are in charge of how it will happen. We get to make the decision, either actively or passively, whether this is a moment we never remember or a moment we will never forget.
Of the thousands of commutes in my lifetime, my drive today was one I will never forget.
Whether this refreshed outlook will last or not I do not know. I sure hope it does. Perspective is so easily lost. My wife and I feel so fortunate to have built the life we have together. As we finish out the next few months of our contracts, running the same old trails, walking the same old beach, I hope I can remember to keep my eyes open to the vibrance that exists in every fleeting moment that we are so privileged to have.
Written by: Stephen Stockhausen
Call for comments: How has traveling influenced your own perspectives? Good or bad.