Walking out of the school building last week, I took in the afternoon weather. It was overcast and wanted to rain. Part of me was a little annoyed that it wasn’t a sunny winter afternoon. Although it was warmer than a typical January day, it was a bit bleak. Yet before I could be too down about it, I unexpectedly thought, “If I were in England, this would feel like a wonderful day.”
For a moment, I took in the cool air and imagined traipsing around London. The cloudy sky seemed to fit perfectly for a stroll down the streets of London and seeing the sites. If I were in London, I wouldn’t sit in a hotel room and be annoyed that it wasn’t sunny. I would step out with an umbrella and soak in the delight of being able to explore a new town. In fact, the cool air and the cloudy sky might even seem to add to the romance of the excursion.
It is incredible what a change in perspective can do. On an afternoon in South Dakota, the weather seemed to be rather unremarkable, bothersome even. Yet if I pictured myself somewhere else, be it the English countryside or a pub in Dublin, it suddenly seemed to add to the beauty of the situation. I think there is something about the unfamiliar and the novel that makes us more prone to find it enjoyable. The same thing in an everyday setting is easily overlooked or forgotten.
I’ve experienced this stark difference several times in my life. The easiest examples are from when I’ve been traveling. When I studied abroad in Austria, I had to walk a couple miles to the train station every time I wanted to explore Europe. It is amazing how invigorating it felt to strap on a backpack and trudge through the snow, headed to someplace completely unexplored. I’ve spent my whole life living in a state that experiences cold winters and sufficient snowfall, but there was something about an Austrian winter that was exhilarating.
Or there was the time that I went to Honduras for a mission trip. There was something soul-satisfying about waking up in the early morning and stepping outside to hear the birds chirping. In those moments, there was some indefinable joy and sensation. To this day, on specific spring or summer mornings, I can go outside and there is something “Honduran” about the atmosphere.
These moments of travel and exploration are times where I have experienced what it means to be fully in the present. It happens in ordinary life, too, though not nearly as often.
And that is what I want to change.
I want to force myself to occasionally stop and take in the glory of the present moment. It happens accidentally and at random moments, but I want to make it intentional. Strange though it may seem, I want to walk into my classroom, stop, and take in the experience of being there. As I walk around and survey my students working, I want to pause and consciously experience the pleasure of teaching. When I drive home from work, the same way I drive every day, I want to force myself to truly see the buildings and trees I pass by. I think it might drive me crazy to spend every moment acknowledging the moment I am in, but I need to do it more often than I have.
This morning, I drank a cup of tea as I read a book and I tried to appreciate the peace and quiet knowing that (hopefully) someday my life will be filled with the beautiful chaos of a husband and children. That was not the case this morning and so I paused to acknowledge with gratitude that reality. I plan to continue that practice of mindful pausing and expressing gratitude. Today is all I have and today is where I encounter the Lord.
This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.