About two weeks ago, while door-knocking in Edmonton neighbourhoods with Randy Boissonnault, our campaign team came across a situation that put a smile on our faces. As we squeezed in the final few houses before heading to Duchess Bakery for thirty minutes of relaxation, we encountered a man named Chris, who was accompanied by his son. Inviting us in for a chat, we made small talk with Chris and shared several laughs, enjoying the warmth of the indoors following several hours spent outdoors in the bitter cold. As Chris left the room in order to find a pen, his son did something that we will not soon forget. Reaching into his pocket, the young boy grabbed a loonie, which he then handed to Randy. “This is for good luck, and because I appreciate you campaigning outdoors in the cold,” he said. Needless to say, this small action made the previous hours of sheer cold and slippery pavement worth the time and effort. It was one of those small moments that are not easily forgotten.
As I reflect on the episode from two Sundays ago, it is delightful to see just how kind and “light” children tend to be. Unfazed by the challenges faced by most adults, they keep smiles on their faces and are often curious at the large world around them. They are happy to spend time at home on Sundays simply reading and enjoying time in a warm house. Moreover, the smallest of gestures easily bring a smile to their faces. They are, in short, “light.” They live with an ease that tends to disappear as people get older.
Chris’ son’s story, however, is not one that only pertains to children. In the last year of university, which as a period of transition and change has at times been stressful, I have seen several friends exude such “lightness.” Perhaps the best example of this is a close friend in political science and history, who in his first three years at the U of A was a near-4.0 student, highly involved in student government and a wide range of clubs and associations. Though quite jovial and always a good friend, I sometimes sensed some stress from him, particularly around marks and the need to “keep up with the Jones.” Yet, in his fourth year, a funny thing happened. This friend drew back on several clubs, decided to dedicate more time to his thesis, worked in a new and exciting job and spent additional time outdoors. His demeanour went from energetic though sometimes stressed, to one characterized by the same lightness I saw in Chris’ son. The change is significant, to say the least, and admittedly left me envious at times.
The reality is that as life progresses, and as we move into the rigours of professional life, stress is bound to augment. It is so easy to become caught in the rat race, where all one thinks about is grinding through each day, working toward some distant goal that will allow one to live independently, have a family, purchase several hours and travel. These thoughts alone can evoke stress in someone. This has certainly been the case for me, where the first half of my final university year focused on things such as winning the Rhodes Scholarship, getting into blue-chip consulting firms and launching a startup company. In short, I lost perspective, and valued these things because others value them. The result of such thoughts is, not surprisingly, too much stress and unhappiness. In these cases, it is entirely possible that people will achieve many great things, though never take the time to actually enjoy the achievements.
Though I might seem to be implying that we should not strive for excellence and achievement, and that the rat race should be avoided, this is certainly not what I intend to say. Excellence is demanding, and sometimes leaves people feeling tired and worn-out. Instead, I think that it is worth keeping in mind that our decisions to achieve excellence, to pursue great things and to make something out of ourselves are decisions, and that we always have the ability to step back and pause. On this point, I think often to Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-king who in his journals wrote, among many other great things, ““Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
Yes, the future is certainly daunting. However, the importance of pause, perspective and enjoyment are just as meaningful as the achievements we collect along our travels. They are, in short, the sorts of things that lead one to live with such lightness – an admirable quality, indeed.