This summer I've been invited to facilitate sessions at Texas State University's Cat Camp for incoming freshmen. Every few weeks I drive the familiar road down to San Marcos to speak with new students about the power of relationships, embracing change, the importance of remembering who they are, and urging them toward a college career filled with adventure.
Each visit is a welcome dose of nostalgia.
On the drive home last week I recalled a season of growth which continues to provide insight and guidance.
In 2007 I was deciding between being a Resident Assistant or running for Student Body President.
I wanted my senior year to be slow and easy. I was a poetry major, read a lot of Thoreau and had a desire to create intentional community with those who would live on my floor. I could take the last few classes necessary to graduate and fill my time with enriching electives, poetry readings on the lawn, and create real space for meaning.
There was also a pathway to run for Student Body President. It would involve taking on more responsibility than I'd ever had in my life, opening myself up to scrutiny and criticism from all angles and adding more to my plate than I'd ever be able to complete. I'd be giving up slowness for speed. Forgoing poetry for politics.
Or so I thought back then, when I was thinking about my entire life from an either/or perspective.
I ended up running for Student Body President and winning. The rest of my life has been influenced by that season. I'm quite sure I could connect every open door in my post-graduate career to the one term between 2007-2008. I was also forced to tackle some maturity issues and develop internal fortitude I might never have otherwise.
Though there was no poetry on the lawn under the shade of an oak, there was poetry in the task of bringing people together who saw the world differently. While I may not have enjoyed the slowness I dreamed of when I pictured a sepia colored senior year, the Great Lake Swimmers orchestrating the soundtrack, I found the slowness that exists between bursts of speed - when your decisions have real weight and you're able to step back for a second and see yourself, as if from third person, marching forward shouldering an important burden.
I thought I wanted to live a slow life without interruptions and with a low responsibility threshold because I believed back then if I could eradicate all of life's distractions and obligations I'd finally be able to live the kind of intentional and deliberate existence I was convinced I wanted to live.
What I missed was the truth we'll never be gifted time or space to do what matters.
Even if we meticulously construct an environment without interruptions and curate the correct stimuli and inspiration necessary to be creative or cultivate connection, we'll never be able to block enough time to consistently live in a protected utopia of intentionality.
Yet we continue to try - convincing ourselves one day we'll have the bandwidth to do community well or finally be creative. In the meantime opportunities are passing us by day after day, year after year.
For me and for those who struggle with dualistic thinking, we lament to ourselves, "If I make this big commitment then I'll never be able to connect with others the way I desire” or, “I'll never be able to build community and be creative and do well at work all at the same time. If only I could change my circumstances."
And so we continue to wait for things to slow down instead of fully participating in the time we've been given.
My dad recalls some of the most productive, rich, and exciting times he and my mom experienced were when they had little money, little kids, and it seemed like their heads were about to explode. But they made it, and along the way they summoned a new kind of will from within themselves they didn't know they possessed to do the necessary work. And they created a beautiful family and meaningful relationships in the process.
Think about a season you had more than you could handle - didn't you figure out a way to get more done and find meaning along the way? And wasn't that season also a little exciting?
Meaning can be found in the midst of madness.
This isn't an argument to do more, run faster, and take on additional responsibility in lieu of slowing down and creating space for peace and relationships. It's an urge to recognize we'll never be gifted circumstances we think are necessary to live the life we were meant to live live.
So we better stop waiting.
This is a nudge to, "Find peace in the midst of...", and, "Celebrate despite...", and, "Create magic now instead of waiting for...".
All the things we desire from our lives can be cultivated by a change in both our perspective and our expectations. Better to live here in the present - right in the middle of our story - instead of clawing backward or trying to get out in front of our existence.
Dreams of a future supported by perfect circumstances will only delay a life meant to be lived today.
Participation here and now is the answer, not more time.