Friday, January 22, 2010

The Opportunity Cost of a Calm Life

It has been warm enough outside that I have let the stove run cold on occasion so I can clean out the ashes that have piled up and knock the creosote down out of the stove pipe. The warm weather (40 degrees Fahrenheit) makes it harder to cook on the wood stove, since running it hot enough to boil water overheats the house.

Confronted with the calm and constant pace of life I can imagine this warm January slipping into May without a fuss, May fading into the high heat of August slipping into the November chill and back again without so much as a notice or even a reminder to do such things as marvel, or travel, or take a vacation. Wanderlust overtakes my hard-won practicality at times. My desire to save enough for a house and some land, or simply to always have a bit of savings on hand at all is drowned out by the sound of distant mountain streams gurgling through my daydreams reminding me that I long for mountains. And I do. I see photos of distant lands and part of my heart quivers and begs.

That I subsume these desires in working harder for a calm and oft-overlooked daily joy seems necessary, and even important, as to adventure before providing for the things one needs to live sensibly is a childish and self-defeating goal. But the calm and steady enjoyment of daily life does not drown out the sudden shouts of lust for a bigger adventure. It is not so much the risk of failure in big adventures that stops me, so much as that I truly believe that the life that is better lived, in retrospect, is one that doesn't make a particularly good story. Thus I trade adventure for calm. It doesn't always work, I'm afraid, in fooling me into believing that I want a simply calm and joyful life. Sometimes I want adventure. Sometimes I want fame and glory; I want to steal spotlights and be known for eternity. On days such as these my usual conviction that I want nothing more than to bring joy to my small circle of friends and family through a calm, well-lived life full of small and simple courage, cannot keep its flame lit in the gusts of lust for something larger.

I used to walk as a child, with my hand along brick walls, begging one of the bricks to slip under the pressure of my fingers and crumble into a world of magic and adventure. I used to beg my mother for a real magic wand - one that really worked - until I realized I was too old to give voice to such a wish. i did not, however, stop wishing for it. Not for the sake of getting all the dishes done, no, or for curing heartaches, but for allowing adventures to unfold in the middle of a dull day of school, or a long, languishing summer holiday.

It is adventure that I have become suspicious of. More specifically, the stupidity that, in times of adventure, can be misinterpreted as courage. It is the daily, plodding courage which I am truly floored by, and to which I aspire. It is not courageous to give into love and run off with the neighbor. Nor is it courageous to go backpacking in Europe at the expense of one's entire savings account. This courage gives only a short-lived good story and good gossip for the neighborhood. It is the daily type of courage, which necessarily lives through hardship and boredom, glory, and, yes, the occasional adventure, which makes grandparents' feet worth sitting at.

We are not made to fulfill all of our wishes. Our lives are a constant process of balancing the ever-quickening clip at which life trots along with the need for calm, peace, fulfillment, and adventure. This is not a child's birthday. We will not get everything we want and only have to write a thank you note in return. What a disservice we do to children by telling them they can be whatever they want to be when we all want to be more, much more, than just one person can ever aspire to.

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