Dancing with Elephants

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted.  Do it now.” – Paulo Coelho

Fresh off a trip to Key West and celebrating family time on Thanksgiving, I’m already thinking about the next trip.  Frankly, I was thinking about the next trip before I took the last trip.  I have a serious case of Wander Lust.  I was watching a scene from Local Hero that inspired me to look up where it was filmed in Scotland.  Turns out it was filmed in several locations, all beautiful.  That led me to Google how long the drive would be from Edinburgh to one of those locations, and that led to a big lump in my throat.  How the heck am I going to pull this trip off with all the other trips I want to do?  Wander lust reality check struck again.

“Just be, and enjoy being.  If you are present, there is never any need for you to wait for anything.” – Eckhart Tolle

Thanksgiving brought together family, and ever so briefly, filled the empty nest before the kids went back to school.  They say that you’ve used up 90% of the time you’ll spend with your children and parents by the time you graduate college.  That’s certainly true if you live far away or travel often.  We have to remember that we’re all here for a brief time and embrace the time we have together.  It’s all just a blip of time.  Think about how fast this year has gone as we approach the end of the eleventh month.  Then mix in the reality of how little control we have over our time together.  I’ve watched too many people exit this world too soon.  A person I worked with lost her husband to a heart attack on Thanksgiving night.  They’d been married for a little more than a year.  You really never know how much time you have with someone. You never know how much time you have left yourself.  Do it now.

“… we need to hurry.  Not just because we move daily closer to death but also because our understanding – our grasp of the world – may be gone before we get there.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“Think of yourself as dead.  You have lived your life.  Now take what’s left and live properly.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

So there it is; the dueling priorities of time with family and friends versus time exploring the world.  I’ve always said I love travel, it’s the tradeoff of time away from family that I hate.  Best to take them along if possible.  But that gets prohibitively expensive quickly.  And there’s the dilemma.  One I confess I haven’t mastered yet.  Balancing work and family and financial responsibility and elephant hunting for a “successful” life.  Challenging to say the least.

The year started with hope and adventure in Portugal.  The elation of hiking along the cliffs of Sagres and watching surfers bob in the swells as the sun set was offset by my wish that family and friends were there to enjoy it with me.  Key West was delightful.  But more so because Kris was there with me.  Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a life goal, but one that will come at a cost should I pursue it.  It’s unlikely that Kris would go, and regardless, for every moment spent hiking the AT, I’d be subtracting moments I’d be spending with family or on some other activity.

“Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it?  Do you realize that you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?” – Robert Cohn to Jacob Barnes, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Such is the curse of a short life.  And the blessing of a life lived in relative freedom and prosperity that grants us the opportunities to experience these things at all.  The vast majority of people who have lived or live in third world countries or under totalitarian conditions couldn’t imagine the opportunities to see and do the things that we can do now.  Wars and disease and dictatorships have conspire against the vast majority of humanity’s hopes and dreams.  So I’m at once filled with gratitude for that which I can experience and frustration that I can’t experience even more.  Greedy?  Perhaps, but then again, wouldn’t it be worse to ignore the opportunities presented to you?

As I wrote about previously, the expression “I have seen the elephant” meant that you’ve experienced a rare, bucket list thing.  Seeing the pyramids or the Great Wall of China or the Eiffel Tower are “elephants”.  Seeing an elephant, before zoos and in-captivity breeding programs, was once incredibly rare for most people on earth.  Having seen the literal elephant, visiting notable places or experiencing notable things – that Grand Canyon moment if you will, is the figurative “elephant” that I pursue now.

And I have many elephants on the dance card.  Extended stays in Scotland, Dublin, Paris, Hawaii, New Zealand, Machu Picchu are on the card, and so is viewing the Aurora Borealis and hiking the Appalachian Trail and sailing in the Greek Isles.  All elephants I’d like to dance with before I take my last breath.  Hopefully I’ll find a way to check each of those boxes before I reach age 60, and maybe dwell in a few spots along the way.  And in that time I’m already balancing both Ian and Emily graduating college and hitting their own life milestones.  And time with family and friends, and making a small dent in the universe in career and work contribution.  Prioritization.  Eliminating things that aren’t as important.  Focusing on the things that matter most.  There’s no time to lose really.