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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

November 16, 2013

Life: Standard or Fast?

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I mailed a letter to a friend Friend back home the other day.  When I looked at the New Zealand Post mailbox outside our student centre, I reveled in the appropriateness of their signage.

Over the past year, my life has been lived on the ‘fast’ side of life’s mailbox. Looking back over my 31st year of life, I can see that it would really serve me well to downshift to ‘standard.’ I suspect the fare would be cheaper to boot. Beginning with Clark’s birth, extending to our relocation from Tucson, and finally to our re-relocation to Hamilton, New Zealand, looking back over the past year the lone thread that ties it all together is how unexpected the whole lot of it was. And seeing as I entered my 32nd year of life this past week (or turned 31), now seems a fine time to think on such things. Here are three lessons I’ve learned from the past year. 

1. Life’s Uncertainty Is the Norm Not the Exception

If there’s a lesson I’ve learned this year, it’s that life is veritably unpredictable. When 2012 began, I had little thought that I would be a father the following year, and even less thought still that I would be leaving for life in a new country roughly 13 months hence. In fact, had you brought any of these eventualities to my attention, I suspect that my reaction would have been to promptly enter a catatonic state induced by a debilitating panic. My comfort zone was something to be guarded rather than deserted, something to be kept neat and tidy. Kids, by contrast, are messy and international excursions messier still. They have socialized medicine here!

And yet, here we are - with a perfectly healthy son, now one year old, and plans to stay here in New Zealand for roughly 18 months time, returning to America in June 2014. None of this was planned, per se. It just happened. And slowly I’m coming to realize that that’s okay.

2. Embrace New Opportunities by Letting Go of Expectations

The second lesson I’ve learned from life in the fast track has been that expectations are really illusory. While it's wise to plan and anticipate the futures we would like, it’s important to keep in mind that all of this planning we do on a daily basis is with a grain of salt. Planing is always done “Insha’Allah," or 'Lord willing’ as they say in the Muslim world. Following the completion of my SJD, I expected to remain in the U.S. and teach at a tribal college close to home. Had I stubbornly clung to this expectation, I would have missed out on the opportunity to live abroad and gain first-hand insights into the situation of Indigenous governance in a country I had only seen in the Lord of the Rings. Now, I actually live in the Shire. And, more importantly, I would never have met so many of the individuals we now consider dear friends.

Letting go of my expectations was honestly the best outcome that could have happened. 

3. Enjoy the Day

Earlier I mentioned that I’d like to downshift from the fast iteration of life I’ve been living to something more pedestrian. While I’ve come to terms with life’s uncertainty, and the need to be somewhat flexible in my expectations, I still feel like there’s something to be said for living and enjoying a slower life.

The first point to make is that it’s dreadfully easy not to live a slow life. Recently, I read a fascinating essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Michael Ignatieff, former opposition leader of the Canadian Parliament. The biography highlighted the career of Mr. Ignatieff, detailing his swift rise in academia, and his slower, gradual ascent to political power - before ultimately documenting his resounding defeat at the hand of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The theme of the piece was how rapidly a career can peak and plummet. Not exactly inspirational material. 

What I took away from this past year, and the unintentional case study of Mr. Ignatieff, is that the best way to navigate life’s vicissitudes is to simply enjoy the day you have. Our ambitions may fail. Our best laid plans may be upended like a landslide, Canadian electoral loss. So, really the best we can do is focus the madness of existence through the lens of the now, and enjoy the moment of life we have - however fleeting and uncertain it may be.

I don’t know that I’ve shared the details of our son, Clark’s birth before. But toward the end, just prior to his successful delivery (viz., everything turned out alright), his heart rate began to drop. Gwyn had been in labor north of 30 hours and the stress had taken a toll on Mom and Baby alike. When the doctor’s brow furrowed and the medical team began to discuss emergency procedures, my heart sank and fear set in. There was a moment in the delivery room when I would even have given my own life to buy a bit more time for my wife and son. It was a primal, visceral reaction to situation and ultimately completely needless. But it was also telling. Seldom does a day go by that I look at our healthy, happy, and beautiful baby boy and don’t think about how fortunate we are that the moment came to pass so favorably for us all.

Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the now.     

Resurrecting Pax Plena

In sum, I’ve learned much this past year and have more or less put Pax Plena and blogging on hold as a result. My plan, wholly bereft of certainty and expectation, is to begin blogging more frequently. Toward this end, I also plan to teach a course on behalf of the University of Wyoming this spring semester and hope to use the blog here as a way to transmit supplemental information and connect with students, whether through social media or comments on reactions to readings, etc. This means that I’ll be culling some of the old posts and generally trying to whip this nearly 10 year-old project into shape. My hope (as opposed to expectation) is that this will provide a way to reconnect with blogging as a genre of writing and as a means of living life in the slow - a way to remember that in the end, the tortoise wins. 

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