by Elise Seyfried
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”——Charles Dickens
Looked at a certain way, my life has been full of disappointments. I’m not talking about the tragedies, the major letdowns, the deep, deep sorrows. Though I’ve had a few of those, too.
No, I’m talking about the petty annoyances and stretches of mind-numbing boredom with which my stint on Earth has been laced — yours, I’ll wager, as well.
The long-awaited movie that was stupefyingly bad, “Ishtar:” what was Dustin Hoffman thinking? The bestseller you’d been months on the library waiting list for, then later wished you could get the lost hours of your life spent reading back. “Love Story” comes to mind.
When I was little, days were chock-full of interesting activity. There were Barbies to involve in complex plots featuring pink sports cars and dream houses; there were trikes to ride (never did graduate to a two-wheeler, New Yorker that I was); there were Nancy Drew books to memorize. But sheer boredom was an every-night event. I was, even as a kid, a major insomniac. Lights off, the hours crept by at a slower-than-snail’s pace. 10 p.m., midnight, 2 a.m. . . . not a wink. These endless, sleepless nights led to mornings when the dulcet tones of Sister Brendan explaining gerunds to the 5th grade finally put me to sleep.
As an adult, I have endured many ridiculous queues at the local Acme supermarket. OK, it’s just up the street, so I keep going there, but do they really only ever have one register open for a storeful of shoppers? My milk expires before I even get to the checkout. And of course I have sat in mega-traffic jams like everyone else. One night it took me a solid hour to get out of the parking lot after a Billy Joel concert! (And I was so thirsty! And the only thing to drink in the car was warm diet raspberry seltzer!)
These are the times I become acutely aware of my brief span on the planet. Every wasted minute, every throwaway day, really rankles. Why oh why is my precious time being treated so lightly?
I rant. I rail. But then, I think.
My Uncle Don was born with Down syndrome. His life was not exciting by any measurable standard. Shaving, reading the paper — these were triumphs that took hours. The highlight of his day was watching “To Tell the Truth” on my grandparents’ ancient black-and-white TV set. But Don was an inspiration. He concentrated on every morsel of living. Donnie has been gone for almost 20 years, but he is always on my mind and in my heart, especially when I cheer the Special Olympics athletes each year.
I am riveted by their beautiful faces, so open and vulnerable and full of life. I am awed by their courage, training to climb steep hills and swim pool laps and lift heavy barbells. Boredom is not in their vocabulary. They take the measure of each second and find every one fulfilling. And this holds true in all aspects of their lives. They set themselves to a task and fully commit to it. No bellyaching. No tsk-tsking.
No Great Expectations.
And, as a result, they get it. They truly get it. Every breath is a miracle. Standing before the Grand Canyon. Standing behind the woman with 47 items in the express lane. We none of us earned this giant, beautifully wrapped present called Life. The way we value each priceless moment is entirely up to us.
Can we stop expecting Perfection? Can we even laugh when we encounter our “Waterworlds” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagulls”? Is a gridlocked line of cars on the Schuylkill Expressway really such a catastrophe? Isn’t it possible to just chill out and go with the flow? (I can’t believe I’m writing this, as chilling and flowing are such alien concepts to me.)
Maybe my way of looking at things could use a tune-up. Maybe tomorrow I need to wake up expecting, not Great, but something better.
Tomorrow looks like rain. It could be another Big Nuisance, but then again … I think I’ll stand outside, and get thoroughly, wringingly wet and say, and mean, “Thank you.”
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She can be contacted through www.eliseseyfried.com.