[This blog came as the result of a week in Portugal. I have seen farmers with small farms, making money from what they sell in the marketplace each week. I have seen fishermen with their small boats, going out each day to catch some more fish. I have seen a family eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner together...every day. What I have not seen is waking up, going to practice, going to school, going to practice again, going to a meeting, and then lunging for the pillow only to do the same thing tomorrow. Just before writing, I found myself laying on a bed at 7:30 P.M. I had just had three drinks, and I was supposed to start work tomorrow. Before heading to my room, I asked my “boss” when I should wake up and what he would like to have me do. He said, “Hey, just calm down. Just calm down.” And then he offered me another. I said, “nah,” headed to my room, and laid down. In the background, I listened to the only songs left by my brother on my computer...songs by Alabama... “Cheap Seats,” “I’m in a Hurry,” “Song of the South,” and “Mountain Music.” And interestingly enough, each one beckoned to a time when life was slower. When we used to just sit and listen to the music. When we hung out with friends just for the sake of hanging out. When life wasn’t so fast. And when we took life easy. To be honest, I don’t know if I myself lived those days. Perhaps it was a generation before. But lying there in bed, early in the evening, listening to these four songs, I literally couldn’t help but smile, and I knew I had to write...]
I remember the first time I set step into a slow river. I was in Missouri, and I had traveled down with a group of friends. We had rented some large inner tubes, and we threw them into the water, then hopped on top. The water was crystal clear, showing every living and dead thing on the bottom. And the current carried us downstream for miles, far away from the hustle and bustle of life. We stopped when we wanted, sometimes to explore a cave, sometimes to eat. But we slowly let the river take us...the trip took several hours.
I never laid back into a tube for some years. I continued my schooling, I received a job, and then I pursued my education even further. I was gifted, and I was at the head of my class. My grades were exemplary, my passion was huge, and I simply did exactly what my professors asked me to....with much success.
And then one warm spring day, my two friends and I decided it was high time to hit the slow water again. The location was different, but the desire was the same. So we went into town, bought a couple of old semi inner tubes, and headed for a creek. The water was slow, and we tossed our tubes in, then hopped on. What fools we were! This was one of our first spring days, and the water still carried with it the bitterness of a cold winter. But even with the numbness setting in, it didn’t matter to us.
Because we were floating...slowly. The trees passed by us with enough time to examine each and every branch. The birds sung from above. Logs floated by. Snakes hung from trees. Somewhere I’m sure, miles away, cars were speeding down the interstate. Moms were rushing to get their kids to school. Fathers were rushing to get their papers to work. Students were rushing to get their projects to class. Airliners were flying overhead, carrying businessmen across the world for meetings. In a day, they would be coming back again, tired yet maybe a little more successful. The world was all abuzz, but if you asked my friends and me, at that time, in that place, we would have never known it.
Because we were miles away.
To this day, I still don’t remember what we talked about. I couldn’t tell you even a single phrase or word that was spoken. But what I do know is that life was slower. And life was good.
Over the next couple of years, I found myself spending much time on that creek. The people would change, the events were always unique, but one thing would remain constant...me and the creek. The water was always a bit different...sometimes high from a previous rain, sometimes low from a long drought. Sometimes large logs floated by, and at other times the rocks shown from beneath the surface. And, frankly, I was always a bit different, too. Sometime more mature, sometimes less. Sometimes with long hair, sometimes with none. Sometimes busy with school and work, sometimes having more free time than I knew what to do with. The creek and I changed, and at the same we didn’t.
No matter what project was due, no matter what conference was coming, no matter what deadline was ahead, the creek still carried me along slowly. I look back on these days with a sense of wonder. I can remember days when the creek was so high and fast that I would have to be careful not to get stuck in dead timber for fear of drowning. I can remember days when the creek was slow, taking twice as long to get me to my destination. I can remember my friend being pulled under the water with fear in his eyes. I can remember days when lightning struck within 1000 feet. I can remember when the sun shone so hot, so all I wanted to do was get in the water. I can remember my friend using nature’s best toilet...and how it floated down the creek next to me. I can remember my friend puncturing his tube, and how he and I had to ride buddy-buddy. The memories are good...and many. But so much stayed the same. No matter how fast or slow the creek was moving, it was always much slower than the highway. Than my classes. Than my job. Than my life.
And I found that at whatever pace the creek was moving, this was the pace that I was moving...I could try to swim upcreek, but I would struggle immensely, even on slow current days. The creek determined how fast I was to move.
I bought a truck last year with the intentions of using it to make money. I had a passion for motorcycles, and I would use my truck to haul motorcycles home that I had bought. Actually, anything with an engine was fair game, and I was more than willing to travel to pick an item up. 5 miles. 10 miles. 100 miles. 250 miles. Whatever it took, I would drive my truck to pick up an item to make money.
I averaged nearly $280 in gas bills every month. Of course, I was picking up motorcycles that would bring me much more than that...at times. And I thought that life was going so well. At this rate, with these profits, I could buy a newer motorcycle, a quicker computer, a better GPS, and invest larger sums into the stock market. I had thought that life was fairly good.
The river around me was moving so fast. Wake up, do this, do that. Meet with this person, meet with that person, complete this paper, do this project, make this sandwich, write this letter, mail that package, call that person, eat this meal, visit that relative, buy those groceries, mentor this student, go to that game, watch that show, eat this snack, and finally find this bed.
And I looked around, and I did not notice anyone any different than myself. You see, when I looked around, I saw so many people on their tubes in the same river. We were all moving so quickly. The trees were passing by without so much as a glance. The animals were ignored because we had to focus on our tubes and on the water ahead. We didn’t have time to look at the water behind or even the water below. The current was simply too strong. If we would not look ahead, we may very well have drowned.
I spent several years riding the current of this very fast river. And then one August morning, I decided to pull off to a sand embankment on the side. I pulled my tube out of the water, waved goodbye to those around me, though it seemed they moved on without much notice, as they were busy watching the current up ahead. Some would mention how nice the sand appeared to be, some wished that they themselves could get out of the fast river, and some were so proud of me for doing so myself (and I must say a few ridiculed me for leaving a river for something else!), but I noticed that not a one would get out of the river himself. They would sometimes wave as they floated by, and some would smile longingly, but like the trees, I was only a blur on the horizon...
I left that river, and I searched and searched and searched until I found a new creek. On my journey, I came across several other bodies of water. And each had a wide variety of tubers floating by. Some were fast, some were slow, and some were dangerous. I won’t go into much detail about these rivers and lakes here...
And then I came to a creek with the perfect current. The people not only waved when they saw me...they talked to me! They invited me to come in, and then after doing so, I was instantly taken back to the way things used to be...if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that I was drifting down that old Salt Creek with my friends yet again.
I noticed the trees again, I noticed my tube, and I noticed those around me. And life was very, very good. I finally found other tubers that wanted the slow creek. We had experienced the fast rivers, and yet here we were very much content to just float. And take in the scenery.
I left Areeiro this morning for another location in Portugal. I traveled by train, and then by bus to a place up the western coast. I was to meet a German man and visit his house...he had offered me a job to take care of his resort facility. After a few hours of traveling, I met the man, and we talked about the weather, about the resort, and just about other small things.
He treated me to a few beers in this beautiful hut...literally miles away from everywhere. We are on the doorstep of beautiful green mountains...we have to travel to find food, to get groceries, to get anything really. We arrived at his resort early in the evening. He showed me his hut, then gave me a drink. I finished my first drink, and I wondered what to do next. Time was a’wastin’. Then he poured me another. I finished that one, and I wondered if I should go write an e-mail, or go work on my journal, or go figure out what to do for the next day. But slowly I started to realize what we were doing here. This wasn’t just another item on peoples’ lists. This wasn’t an event to be checked off before we moved to the next one. This was where reality was. We were here, in the hut, and that is all that mattered to these people. And we talked. More people came into the bar, and we talked some more. And he poured me another.
“You have people that work 9 to 5, right?” Of course. “And they have these huge cars that require lots of gasoline, right?” You betcha. (My mind was instantly taken back to my truck...). “And in order to finance these vehicles, you have to work longer days to pay for them, right?” Umm, yeah, come to think of it, we do. “You know, I have a small car with great gas mileage...I can fit my surfboard into it, and I work one hour less each day so that I can go to the beach with that time. And my car? It’s from 1985.”
By golly, if I couldn’t drink to that.
Sitting next to me was one of the happiest, most content men I have ever met. Driving a car that was well over 20 years old. And he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was surf, and he made sure that he did.
I have said before that our culture is the “er” generation. We must have newer, bigger, faster, shinier, quicker, better...and when I was in that river, I moved like the river. I wanted bigger, better, faster, shinier myself.
It took me stepping into another creek before I realized just what I was doing.
I sat down a few weeks ago and looked at what my last truck ended up costing me. After all was said and done, after 10 months of ownership, I had lost $2000. And that was before gas. With all of the travel, the expenses, the added accessories, the very truck that was supposed to make me money ended up costing me $200/month. And that was before adding gas!!!
I can remember long trips to buy motorcycles. I can remember frustrations with customers. I can remember people not paying for items, I can remember items being broken. I can remember dropping a motorcycle in my truck and causing a dent...that ended up costing me $200. I can remember the stress, the frustrations, the long hours, the never-ending searching for how to make more money.
And in the end, I came up short anyway. Oh, sure, I did make some profit. But with all of my hassles, I think I ended up making $1000 over 10 months. $100 a week. Before taxes.
Was it worth it?
I have a friend that is so paranoid about his toys. Whenever he buys a motorcycle, he washes it, waxes it, polishes it, babies it. And when he finally has his toy, he is so worried that something will happen to his baby. And it turns out that the very thing that is supposed to give him freedom ends up making him worry even more. Of course, he loves the open road. But I wonder if he doesn’t think about insurance, hitting someone, someone hitting him, how he can’t drive in that storm up ahead, or how that last bug he hit a mile back is going to take a good 10 minutes of scrubbing to get off...every time he goes out to ride.
Is it worth it?
A car from 1985. A beach. A surfboard. And an hour less of work every day to fulfill a passion.
Is that worth it?
I’d easily tell you which one I’d rather have.
2007-09-19 17:33:23 GMT