Surely you've heard the talk about tomorrow being foretold as Judgement Day. I'm not a particular believer in that one — I certainly don't like the idea of being left behind — but the announcement does provoke an interesting question:
If tomorrow were the end of the Earth (give or take five months of misery before total destruction), what about today? Have you cherished today as if it were your last (presuming you aren't ascending to heaven)?
Even more importantly (to me), am I cherishing today?
But this isn't about the May 21st prediction. I'm not taking on religion today. I'm already in enough trouble with the recent Tattoo Argument.
Today Has Been Complex For A Long Time.
A couple months ago, I unplugged for two weeks. No computer. No telephone. Two weeks. My voicemail said, "This is Artie Isaac. I am unplugged until March 28th. I hope to bump into you." That was all I could promise.
When I returned from that experience — which was glorious, as you can imagine (once you get beyond the terror of being unplugged, and once you decide that you don't care how bad the first day back is) — I wanted to work that sort of experience into my life. Especially when I returned to learn that the first day back really isn't that bad; all I had to do was answer a lot of email messages as if they were Twitter posts. I read every saga and called each bluff with a haiku.
I decided, however, that I didn't want two weeks of unpluggedness. I just wanted a day.
Long before I heard that May 21st was erev Kaboom, I grabbed May 20th and put this on my calendar: "No appointments. Walk in the woods."
That was the easy part. It made me smile. Easy.
But I Had To Defend The Day.
The usual scheduling threatened to make May 20th a normal day of hectic writing and driving and talking and smiling.
But I was determined. I just didn't offer May 20th to anyone. I pretended it was booked. It sure looked that way on my calendar.
Then Finkelman Called.
Hey, it's easy to not offer the day to people.
But Finkelman called and said, "I'm free on May 20th. Want to talk about the curriculum I'm writing for a three week visiting executive-in-residence post at my beloved alma mater?" What a fun question! (It might sound boring to you, but — for me — this is like [insert your favorite naughty delight].)
Some Background On Finkelman
Before Finkelman earned his Harvard MBA, before he got funnier and more piercing at McKinsey, before he oversaw branding at Limitedbrands, before he joined Alliance Data as SVP in Marketing, Finkelman graduated from Grinnell College.
(If you think all this biography is not my story to tell, you can find it all on his LinkedIn profile. So, apparently — like the old punchline — he's telling everyone.)
A quick note about Grinnell College. Beyond its fine reputation as a great liberal arts gem, whose alumni list includes Pat Irwin of the B-52s, Grinnell has another, unique quality.
I learned this from a friend who has vertigo. She falls over, especially when she has to walk uphill or downhill.
So, when it was time for her to pick a college, she ranked colleges with a metric that doesn't enter into the magic at U.S. News & World Report: flatness.
And she found, lo and behold, that the flattest campus in America is, yep: Grinnell College. And that is where she went.
(You can imagine her college essay. "Why do I want to go to Grinnell? It's flat." What Admissions Committee could reject that one?)
But this isn't about that.
I Lied To Finkelman.
So Finkelman calls, has a great topic to discuss and suggests May 20th.
I look at my calendar and think, "Oh, great. It's free. I can lunch with Finkelman."
Then I lied: "Uh, May 20th is all booked. I can't meet that day."
I lied to Finkelman.
Let's Talk More About Finkelman.
Why all this concern about Finkelman?
He's heard me say this before, but he doesn't accept that it — at least the second part — is true:
Finkelman goes to synagogue to talk to G-d.
I go to synagogue to talk to Finkelman.
It's true though. At least the second part. (The first part is between Finkelman and G-d — not a conversation I wish to interrupt.)
You see, Finkelman is blue blazingly smart and funny.
He's one of the Tzadikim Nistarim, 36 Righteous People For Whom My Calendar Is Kept. Like Hecker and Petuchowski. They call; I schedule.
(You're probably one of them, too. I'm not publishing the rest of the list.)
They are also members of my own personal Sanhedrin. I'm honored to have them judge me. When they leave me behind, I trust their decision.
Here's what: I was amazed that my day of solitude, my walk in the woods, my unpluggedness was not sold to the highest bidder.
I knew that I was serious. Because Finkelman is the highest bidder.
This was the first time in my life that I'd chosen myself over another person. That sounds too noble. Let me try again...
So how's this: It was the first time I risked solitude without an agenda even though I was offered the delightful distraction of a friend's agenda.
I needed time alone. And if I dodged Finkelman, I was serious about it.
So I Walked In The Woods.
And, man oh man, was it ever delicious. I always thought that nature walks were only for weekends. Or on vacations to the Grand Canyon.
But other people play golf during the week. So why can't I? Here's why: I don't like golf. But dammit, I'm 51. I want to play golf. Without the clubs. Without losing balls. Without the loud clothes. Without the beer and cigars. Without the chemically treated fairway. Without other people around.
And I found all this within 30 minutes of my home in the Columbus Metro Parks Battelle Darby Creek. I walked and walked and saw all sorts of things:
Wild honeysuckle (I think) and other plants of prarie and woods, a small snake, a blue jay, a northern cardinal (our state bird), a yellow-throated warbler (I think), deer poop (I don't have an alibi), and a tick on my hand (not yet burrowed, quickly brushed off).
I thought such warm thoughts about the folks I've known who really love the outdoors. Tad Jeffrey, who has long and effectively advocated for our Metro Parks. David Schirtzinger who gave me a great birding book. And Jim Berry of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.
What's The Meaning Of It All?
I found out that two hours in the park was all I needed. So the morning wasn't yet over when I called Finkelman.
He was at his desk and still available for lunch. So I got my solitude and my Finkelman, too.
And now I'm writing you. So I guess a couple hours was all I needed to refresh myself.
Time alone is hard for me. I thought it would require an entire day, so I put it off for 51 years. Now I can do it weekly.
What's the most rejuvenating thing you can do? Are you putting it off because it seems like a Big Deal? Would you do it if this were our last ordinary day on Earth?
What if the devil were in your car, driving you straight to hell?
Put on your safety belt: some early B-52s for a day that could be as important as our last day on Earth.