It Might Have Been Otherwise

Lately, I have been frustrated by the apparent "fact" that, save for very few details, most of my life has very little "margin". I wake up, I exercise (if I haven't overslept), I walk and feed the dog, I shower and dress, and then I take the bus to work. My commute, though the trip is only about thirty miles, is almost an hour and a half due to traffic and the overall inadequacy / inefficiency of the public transit in my area. Once I arrive at work (doing a job I love, by the way), my days are often filled with meetings, groups, and the needs of others. When the work day is over, I hop on the bus for the long commute. The return trip is sometimes two hours if traffic is especially bad. And then I'm home with the family. Dinner must be made, the kids must be bathed, the clutter must be cleared. By the time I'm done with all this, it's 9:30 or 10:30 or 11:00 and I'm exhausted.

I shared these frustrations with my wife last night saying, "I just wish I had more margin in my days. More space for calm and quiet and reflection." Her response, which I am trying to take to heart, was, "Maybe we just have to cultivate little pockets of silence and stillnell throughout the day. Of course, ever the pessimist, I scoffed and thought, "In what world is that possible?"

And, as is almost always the case, my catastrophizing and frustration subsided and I felt "normal" again. I get it, this is the job. This is parenthood. This is often what "life" looks like for a lot of people. I suppose the "pain point" for me is that for long stretches I don't have a lot of choices in terms of how I spend my time. And, let's be honest, I haven't had any real "time away" from work or the day-to-day demands of life for months. I probably need a massage. And a nap. And a vacation. And I know that eventually, these things will come. For many people, however, these moments of respite come even less frequently than they do for me. For most people in the world, life is just hard.

As I said, eventually I calmed down. I had a cup of tea. I had a nice conversation with my wife. I slept pretty well. And then I got up this morning to do it all again.

I got to work earlier than usual and had a cup of coffee and some delicious "overnight oats" with chia seeds, dark chocoloate, bananas, and almond milk. I ate slowly and sipped my coffee. And as I rested a bit before jumping into my busy day, I felt real gratitude for the life I get to live. I felt thankful for my wife, and my kids, and my dog, and my messy house. It really is amazing what a few hours of sleep and a shower can do for the human psyche.

After a nice "sit down", I joined the rest of the chaplains for our "morning report" where we discuss how the night was for the on-call chaplain and make plans for how to tackle the day's spiritual care needs. And then, the off-going on-call chaplain who had not slept all night expressed overwhelming gratitude for the work he had just stayed up all night doing and for the people seated at the table with him. And, before offering a blessing the coming day, he shared this poem.


by Jane Kenyon 1947 - 1995

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

It really is funny how life works out sometimes. I go through long stretches of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed. I struggle with chronic anxiety and depression. And then, just like that, light breaks through and new perspectives become possible. Yes, yesterday was really hard. Yes, many of my days are planned out for me before they even start. And yes, though I love and cherish my family, being a dad to four small people can be really exhausting. But, as Kenyon wisely points out, it might have been otherwise. Some tragedy might have befallen me or someone I love. My health might have failed. I might have lost my job. On balance, though life is often one struggle after another, my days are filled to the brim with good things. With people, and good food, and music, and - if I am able to stop for a moment - wonder and beauty. Some days, it's hard to stop and take it all in. But I am beginning to find that creating "sacred spaces" in my day isn't just a luxury to pursue when I've got some "time away". No, making time to experience beauty, joy, wonder, and silence is an essential survival strategy. So here's to staying truly "alive". Because, one day, it will be otherwise.

You'll only receive email when they publish something new.

More from shokunin
All posts