(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… however, I’ve updated it with new information.)
“Once you stop learning… you stop living.”
The above phrase started floating through my head a few years ago, right before a reunion with an old friend.
Before I talk about what we discussed, I think it’s important to explain how I met this particular person.
In August 2003, my son and I boarded a plane to visit my mother in North Carolina. My son was around six months old, and was actually a pretty good air traveler at that point (much better than when he reached the age of two).
We sat next to a very kind looking man. I have to admit I was a little preoccupied with the kiddo, so didn’t really chat. Until something very unusual happened.
As we taxied out to the runway, the plane pulled over to the side and stopped, and the pilot turned off the engines. His voice came over the PA system.
“Um, this is going to sound a bit unusual, but our flight is on hold right now because of storms over Cincinnati.” (We had a scheduled layover in Ohio.) “What’s really strange is that it’s not the storm system itself that’s holding us up— it’s the fact that lightning has struck the runway. So workers are now checking for damage, and will let us know soon if we have clearance to take off.”
I’ve been flying regularly since I was a child— a result of divorced parents who lived in different states. I’ve never heard of lightning striking a runway. I’m sure it happens, but it had never happened to delay one of my flights.
I became a little worried about my son. He had fallen asleep when the plane started to move. When the plane stopped, though… he was wide awake. The man next to me looked over at him, and started up a conversation about his own grandchildren. My son beamed at him.
We moved from talking about family to discussing work. He told me he was a theology professor. I told him I was a TV journalist. We started to discuss — one of my favorite subjects — good news and the power of good news. We had something in common: I had always wanted to report more of it, and he had always wanted to see more of it.
He told me he spent much of his time traveling all over the world, and he sees good news happening on a regular basis.
So it turns out the lightning had a purpose. We had plenty of time to talk about our passion for good news. Much more time than we would have had otherwise. Once we were up in the air, the trip wasn’t that long.
We emailed each other a few times after that trip, but lost touch eventually. I moved to another state and took one more news job before I decided I had to leave the business.
I wandered aimlessly for a while, trying to figure out what to do next. I started my good news blog, but found myself unable to keep it up regularly. Then something happened to remind me about the importance of good news.
Five years after that plane encounter, one of my co-anchors at my last station took some time off from work to make a personal trip to China. He was there to observe a forum of theological experts. Right before he headed home, he happened to strike up a conversation with one of the participants while they were on a train going through rural China. It was 4am and they appeared to be the only two people in the 45-member party who couldn’t sleep. They decided to go to the dining car to chat. The conversation moved to news. And good news. And the theologian happened to mention the name of a reporter he once talked to on a plane, one he had really admired because of her passion for good news.
My colleague told me later he about fell out of his chair.
Names and notes were exchanged. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from my former co-anchor asking about having lunch to talk about how things were going. At that lunch, he handed me a note.
And a year after reading that note… I found myself sitting in the same restaurant I sat in when I first read that note, with the person who’d written it.
Anyway, this person is really special. He glows with a resonance matching that of Santa Claus. He has a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step wherever he goes. He has had so many powerful experiences around the world…. and has so many great stories… I could listen to him for hours.
Something he told me at this lunch meeting really resonated with me. He loves to travel around the world because he’s always learning something new. There’s so much out there to explore… why would we limit ourselves to just one location, one way of life, one way of thinking….? He pointed out that so many people out there believe that once they are able to get their big house in the suburbs, their 2.2 kids, and their high-paying job— their lives will be set. They honestly believe that once they get those things, they will not need to go any further than that.
But his philosophy is different. He believes life isn’t about accomplishing goals. It’s all about the journey.
So many of us have been taught to believe that once we make enough money… once we get the right house… once we find the right job… once we find the right partner…. our lives will be complete. And we’ll live happily ever after.
And yet, how many stories do we hear about people who have those things– who still are not satisfied?
Some just live with the underlying feeling that something is missing. Others start doing other things to stir things up a bit…. drink a little too much, or cheat on their spouses, or embezzle from their companies.
Life is a journey. It is a constant challenge to grow and evolve and change our lives for the better.
Right after we are born, we strive to learn as much as we can about the world around us… how to smile, how to talk, how to walk, etc. Once we achieve those goals, we set new ones. Eventually we move from the basics and start to learn things that help us understand our world better— things like literature, philosophy, science.
At some point, though… we grow tired. We have so much going on in our lives that we get to a point where we just want to survive, much less grow. But there’s always a nagging voice in the back of our head telling us…. “there has to be more than this.”
That’s because there is. Much more.
Of course, not all of us can drop everything and travel around the world ;)…. but there are always opportunities to learn new things. You don’t have to start big. Take up a new hobby. Sign up for a community college class. Buy art supplies and create something new. Plant a garden.
Life doesn’t stop when we accomplish our goals— why should we? Why stop learning and growing and creating…?
I’d like to thank my friend for reminding me of something I’ve always believed— but had forgotten until he reminded me that afternoon in 2009. Once you stop learning… you do, in fact, stop living. And that’s where the ennui comes in.
Now it’s 2014. Since we had that discussion… I’ve become a Reiki Master, I started working toward a Master’s degree in education, and I will soon have a paralegal degree.
Yes, I realize those things are all over the map. That’s part of the fun, isn’t it? And definitely keeping with the Making the Mundane Magical theme.
At the risk of sounding like a Nissan commercial from the 90’s: life is a journey. Never stop moving forward. And enjoy the ride.
Very Nice. I was born and raised in Seattle, when I worked for Microsoft I got to travel a lot. I miss that world view perspective, look forward to more travel in the future.
That's great, Ed! I used to travel a bit too, but haven't had a chance to get out the country in a while. I look forward to *making* time (and saving enough money 😉 soon. 🙂 In the meantime, I have to say just getting into a totally new environment— even inside of Seattle (usually through volunteering) has helped me be able to look at things a little differently. I haven't had time to do that lately. I need to get back into it. 🙂