Winging my way around the country again this week has me thinking about being away from family and friends, the time many of us spend on the road (or at the office) and the hope we all harbor that the work we do matters.
I have no complaints and I am fortunate to do work that I believe makes a difference. But I spend a great deal of time in transit and away from my loved ones; and the 3:30 a.m. alarm to start the trek for the airport often makes you wonder “is this worth it?”
In our modern lives, plane travel, email, texts, the news (real and “fake”), social media, podcasts and, yes, even blogging, create a sense of urgency and, perhaps wrongly, fill this need for feeling, well, important. “I have fifteen meetings in three cities in four days,” or something like that. We’ve all done it.
We long for meaning and connection on social media, prompted by the latest news flash on our ever-present “smart” phones. “Did he really say that?!” “Are you attending the rally for (insert cause du jour?)” “Someone in Liechtenstein viewed my page!”
A priest friend of mine once described being young and going off to Africa to do work because he believed that’s how you saved the world – by doing big things in far away places – only to realize later in life that the work he needed to do was right in his own community.
And so it is with us.
Not too long ago, as I did his morning, I boarded the early flight to Salt Lake. That morning I walked past our town’s Oscar winner, J.K. Simmons, sitting there quietly, just another traveler off to another destination. Several months later he gave the commencement address to students at the University of Montana where he implored them to turn off technology and “be here now.” It was wonderful advice.
And maybe that’s the lesson for today. Even in our hectic world, finding time to be present is what gives us meaning. It’s right there for the taking. The evening before your flight spent with family. The time you are “here,” rather than “there.” The work dinner or meeting truly “with” one client, rather than ten meetings where you aren’t even awake.
In a modern world where there is pressure to be everywhere at once, maybe what matters, what gives us meaning, is the time we are present, no matter where we are. Even at 33,000 feet.