Spontaneity and Duty

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There was a time when spontaneity was my middle name. I reacted rather than planned. I vividly remember taking a trip to Colorado on the spur of the moment one summer. I had been opining about the mountains with my husband and daughters as we spooned ice cream into our mouths on a hot summer evening. Like me they felt the call of adventure and before we had emptied the cups of custardy delight we had decided to head for Colorado the following day. That night we visited a Walmart to purchase the supplies we would need for the journey and arose early the next morning to begin our serendipitous travel. 

At the time our quixotic adventure seemed in keeping with the way we had always lived. Life was short and we intended to squeeze as much joy out of it as possible. It was the same reason that my husband and I got married before we were wet behind the ears and had two children while we were still learning how to be adults. We did not purposely adopt the mantra, “Live for Today!” It just seemed to describe our joyful, if sometimes rash way of approaching each moment. There was literally no telling what we might randomly decide to do from one day to the next if an urge overcame us. 

Over time we became more and more circumspect. We planned and created schedules. We began to be ruled by appointments noted on calendars. If it was Thursday we had a fairly good idea of what lay ahead of us on that day. We quite reliably became dependable in our habits, sending our regrets for last minute invitations that did not jibe with our routines. We were ruled by a clock, the seasons, the pace of our work. We progressed nicely as adults in both our careers and our private time. Everything was in order. Everything had a time and place. 

Then we retired from our long years of labor. Suddenly we had no place to go at seven in the morning. We were free to do as we pleased, but we had forgotten how to seize the day without first planning it minute by minute. We drifted for a time, unable to determine how we might spend the next years of our lives without the constraints that had directed them for so many years. Ultimately we learned to relax once again, to randomly leave for a sojourn at the beach or in the woods. We became aimless travelers willing to head in directions unknown at a moment’s notice. It was exhilarating!

Then came the pandemic from out of nowhere. The trip to Scotland that we were about to take was canceled. Nobody was calling to invite us to meet them in an hour anymore. We became more and more like hermits tied to our home while we waited for the danger of the virus to abate. We did our best to make that time fun in different ways, but it was difficult to watch the weeks then months of confinement rule our lives. Eventually we figured out how to travel without endangering ourselves or others. We embarked on trip after trip in our trailer, our conveyance into the wider world. It was glorious to be spontaneous in a kind of bubble of our making. 

We had continued to consider a number of trips for this year ,but all of them would come to naught as my mother-in-law’s health quite suddenly began to fade. Then my father-in-law became seriously ill at the moment of her death. Month after month we have been caretakers, responsible people just as were had been when we were working and providing for our daughters when they were still living at home. Our calendar became the guide for our days. We had to perfectly plan each hour to accomplish the goals centering on getting my father-in-law well. We have had to be grown-ups once again. 

Life is funny. One day we can be free to live in the spur of the moment and the next we have to buckle down to our duties. We do well to know how to react successfully to both situations. There is a time for being the adult in the room and another for taking full advantage of joyful escapes from obligations that require us to plan ahead or follow a calendar. Spontaneity is good for the soul, but so is doing what must be done. In life there must be a balance and a sense of when it is time for each way of living. 

My father-in-law is growing strong and healthy again. We are beginning to see that it may be okay to leave him for an afternoon or an evening. In the coming weeks we even hope to go on a camping trip once again with enough planning to be certain that he will be okay alone. We will slowly restore a bit of spontaneity to our lives, but we also understand that there is just as much happiness to be found in daily routines. Embracing the joy does not require running away from the moment. Sometimes just waking up to the discipline of making someone’s life a bit better is the best way to spend the time we have. 

If all of my years have taught me anything, it is that balance is the key to happiness. We need to know when to work hard and when to laugh and dance. The two ways of living are not mutually exclusive. We can and should have both. Life is way too precious not to enjoy as much as we possibly can. When we are facing our own mortality we each want it to be said that we have lived well. It’s great when we can look back and know that both our work and our spontaneous moments were magnificent.  


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