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I was going to a conference on a topic that I suspected was not going to be exciting. My boss suggested I go, and since he’s right about many things, I decided to listen. I was not really excited about the topic, but I figured I’d survive till 2PM with enough fully charged devices, so I went.

I tried to be on time–there is never an excuse for being late in my book. I’d make it to work early in the snow. People two feet down the road would show up an hour late and try to pull the weather card.

“It’s snowing! Gee, thanks, Jim Cantore–try this–watch the weather, get up early, and leave your house. That’s what people do.

In Rhode Island, there’s pretty much never an excuse for being late other than “I’m inept.” I’ve been struggling with this one myself lately since our move to the forest.  My mind refuses to acknowledge the fact that I’m geographically farther from work on a road frequented by farm and recycling trucks with no passing zones. I can’t seem to comprehend that I cannot physically leave at the Old Time and get to work early. It’s neurolinguistic programming–habits and ruts that we build deep in our minds that we have to reprogram.  This is a deep one.

But there is never an excuse for tardiness in a state the size of a yardstick. Even in the unfortunate event of a traffic pileup, it’s possible to get off the exit, which in Rhode Island is probably six feet down the road, and back-road it the rest of the way.  People don’t though–they’ll sit in traffic instead.

“I didn’t know how to get around it.”  That’s why the Lord invented GPS.  Even if your iPhone mocks you by sending you random places, in this state, you can’t be too far off.  Just follow the direction of the sun and stars. You’ll still get there on time.

But for this conference, I was late. Perhaps it was my motivation level that day.  I walked in five minutes after the appointed time. Generally, this is okay for teacher functions because teachers take more than five minutes to chat and get coffee, then even more time ignoring requests to listen. I figured I could slip in unnoticed.

There was another participant walking in late. I walked in with her. We chatted on the way from the parking lot.  Finally, I did the right thing–I introduced myself.

“You look familiar,” I said.  “My name is Dawn.”

“I know,” she replied. “I work with you.”

Indeed, she did. She was hired at the beginning of the year, we had talked once or twice, and then I retreated to my classroom. I haven’t left since.

How do you recover from that?  There is no way to dig out of stupidity that deep. I was forced to go with the classic, “My bad,” which includes an offer to buy lunch. That’s the last resort when admitting you are dumber than tree mould.

That would have been tragic enough if I hadn’t done it once before. I did it in my own neighborhood after living there a good half-decade. I was in my next-door neighbor’s yard. She had a friend over chatting. I introduced myself.

“I know. I’m your neighbor across the street.”  I had waved to the woman for six years, but when I saw her twenty feet over into the next yard, completely out of context, she was unrecognizable to me. In the end, though, she delivered my son. She turned out to be the maternity ward nurse.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Maybe that we’re not as neighborly as we used to be and that everyone is so busy dealing with their own stuff that we’ve lost that sense of community. That work really has become a rat race, and that we don’t break out of our molds and habits enough to pay attention. That the speeding up of the world forces us to dullen ourselves to personal experiences around us…That we lack balance in so many areas of our lives.

Yesterday, I was copy-editing a pile of senior thesis papers. There was one about the evils of social media. After checking my Twitter twice, I finished reading the paper, whose thesis was apparently that social media has horrific effects on the teen developmental mind. It turns them into antisocial malcontents who lack balance and can’t have a real phone conversation or interact in person. I’m thinking of a conversation I had with a great friend whose one flaw is that he never calls back, “I’m not good at the phone, but I rock it in person.”

Society has changed. It’s faster, more efficient, has lots more cool gadgets. But my senior was right, even as I said, “Nuh-uh,” throughout the whole thesis. At times, the world speeds up so much that I sometimes lack balance. Though I get tons more done, I rush from thing to thing, apparently missing some really cool people at the same time.

I was at a meeting tonight, where a local superstar educational leader** discussed that very concept, suggesting that working hard in the field of education was critical, but that we need time for our families, too. We need balance.  We need to prioritize, slow down and attend to what is important–our loved ones. He was right. I’ve often felt it ironic that I save the world’s children while at times ignoring my own. I’m improving.

Balance is difficult. I always seem to do better during food production season when there are veggies and fruits to grow, things to can, and nature to watch. While there are plenty of tasks that need doing, the fact that I get to stop and watch something grow makes me marvel at the moment–and reminds me to just sit and be. To enjoy the gift of the present and to consider that nature cannot be rushed, that we must enjoy its seasons. To realize this is to discover the smallest part of the meaning of life. It is the essence of balance.

[Plug: The educational leader in question is a co-moderator of #Edchatri, one of my favorite Twitter chats. It’s on Sundays at 8PM, and it’s not just RI anymore! Check it out!]


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