Now is the Time
Years ago, my wife and I were out walking when we encountered one of my colleagues. He had just retired from teaching and, tragically, his wife had just died. Ever thoughtful and selfless, he said to us, “Don’t wait to do the things you hope to do. Start doing those things now, even a little at a time.” He spoke not out of grief, but in his warm, helpful teacher voice. His thinking on the matter was complex and careful. If nothing else, he said, people should begin to test their dreams to find out whether they would actually enjoy the adventures they fantasize about.
My newly retired Midwestern parents took this strategy to heart. They had dreamed of living somewhere warmer and sunnier than South Bend, but they weren’t yet in a position to move, so they used mini-vacations to explore southern cities in the Carolinas and Georgia, places like Asheville, Charleston, Augusta, and Savannah. Over a period of four or five days they would drive down to one of their chosen sites at a leisurely pace and then walk the historic streets, visiting the local attractions and checking out the real estate. It was like window-shopping for a town. After a while it became clear that, whether or not they ever relocated, they had found an amusement that engaged them deeply, activating their imaginations and fine-tuning their judgments about communities, amenities, and living situations. They studied maps together, read up on places that looked intriguing, and made travel plans. They were a team. Their shared project enlivened their companionship.
My wife and I have pursued our adventuring in trips to foreign countries and wilderness hiking in the U.S. We don’t have a lot of money, we’re able to do this because we live simply and have no children. We’ve found that much of our pleasure comes from reflecting on our experiences afterwards. The stories form a reserve of conversational resources. We talk about our hike along Lake Superior when we heard a snort and each of us set out in a different direction searching for its source – perhaps a moose. My wife saw the black bear first. She and the bear peeked around a clump of boulders at the same time, shyly withdrew, and slowly peeked out again, like a scene in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I arrived, and the three of us were caught in a stare-down. I picked up a stick – which might have stopped the charging bear for about half a second. But we were able to wait out the bear as it sniffed the air uncertainly and seemed to come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be gained by going forward.
An aging mentor of mine once advised, “Have new experiences. Have as many as you can.” Our more dramatic and beautiful experiences live on and maybe continue to grow within us. There was the time in Venice when our friend Steven offered to take us out onto the lagoon and through the canals in his small motorboat, if the weather changed. Several days later, the air warmed up, and we spent the entire afternoon and early evening seeing Venice from the water, riding under the bridges and through the narrow canals into the more intimate neighborhoods, then back out onto the Grand Canal as the sun set, painting its golden warmth over the famous palazzi, churches, and monuments. That experience is with me now. I’ll someday die with that experience in my heart. In the meanwhile, it inspires me to keep going.