I’m watching my friend Laura sing along with the radio to a song about rolling your windows down to cruise. With her baseball cap flipped backwards on her head, Laura waves her hands in the air out the open window of my Explorer crooning each country lyric perfectly.
My friend hangs on the word “cruise” and sings about a truck being so tall it needs a lift kit (whatever that is). I’m laughing hysterically, so she belts the words out even louder.
Laura bounces in the passenger seat and shimmies her shoulders to all the right parts. Driving, I keep one eye on the road and another on her. I haven’t seen my friend let go like this in several years. She is fully immersed in the moment, and I am overcome.
At the stoplight, I try to take a picture, but Laura is moving so much the shot is blurry. No big deal. The image of my friend wailing at the top of her lungs is ingrained in my head. I will store it in the place I go to when I’m feeling negative and need to remember my blessings.
These little moments are on my mind lately: the ones that happen so fast and unexpectedly, you actually have to stop and pay attention or they’ll flit away before you can make a memory. It’s moments like my two-year-old nephew pushing a baby stroller around the house at full speed on Thanksgiving, for the sole purpose of crashing it into my legs. My role was to try to catch him and then chase him into repeating the routine about fifteen more times.
These moments are everything, but you can’t absorb them unless you ground yourself in the present. For most of us, this is incredibly hard to do.
I recently stumbled on an old This American Life episode where Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, told this story about a life-altering experience. At 27, Kelly received a spiritual message of sorts and truly believed that he only had six months to live.
Instead of climbing the highest mountain or jumping out of a plane, Kelly spent time with his family, in what he thought were his last days. In those precious months, he found that gardening with his parents turned out to be the thing his heart needed most.
At the end of the radio broadcast, Kelly got choked up when he talked about the day he realized he wasn’t going to die after all. He said the experience was like being “reborn into ordinariness.” Kelly’s journey reminded me that nothing matters as much as moments with family and friends, with nature, and with our arms wrapped around life itself.
Looking back, I see a timeline of ladders I climbed, relationships I toiled over, places I moved, and a lot of struggle in between it all. I never felt like anything was “enough.” Today I realize I created most of that struggle myself.
I could never reach “enough” because there is no finish line with “enough.” We will never get there until we determine what “there” is and what matters most in our lives.
For so long I ran so fast on the hamster wheel I built (and I still do sometimes), that I didn’t know how to fully enjoy my life. I didn’t know how to pause long enough to let my nephew crash into my legs as many times as he wanted.
These beautiful, simple blessings pass us by when we are fixated on the thing that might be coming next. “Next” keeps us from truly experiencing “now.”
Kelly’s words made me realize 2013 was one of the quietest, and quite frankly, most boring years of my life, and yet, I think I might love it the most. I didn’t travel or accomplish any major feats. Mostly, I got comfortable with living back in a town I previously thought to be too slow for me.
This year, I bedazzled Christmas ornaments with my mother, planted my first garden, and got so close to a hummingbird in the process that it practically landed on my shoulder. As Kelly so eloquently put it, “What more can one ask for?”
I didn’t see the shift coming, and my new adoration for the little moments doesn’t mean I will stop setting goals and planning trips. I think I just needed to slow down long enough to appreciate the amazing life I already have.
These real experiences are the best things we can ask for … even if they only last for a second. They are enough, a thousand times over.
Thank you Laura for your singing skills, and thank you Kevin Kelly for sharing your story more than a decade ago. I am so glad I made the choice to stop, listen, and find gratitude in the ordinary.
Image credit: Samantha Spohn on Pinterest