That is why we need to travel...we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.
- Letters to my son, Kent Nerburn
Sometimes I catch myself, mindlessly retracing old steps, routines of thought with slippery sides. I shuffle through days hazy in the mantra of familiar, usual motions lined up in a row, without pondering the whys anymore, simply following orders. I wallow in structure, wallpapering my hours with daily chores and errands. I slip into new routines easily, always adding rather than subtracting, until its possible to fill all of the minutes with a to-do life. I clench my schedule closely lest someone try to stretch my edges and breath new chances into stale footsteps.
I find myself strangely attached to routines that seem to have appeared from nowhere, meaningless rituals that lack joy and yet, I believe I must do or else...Or else what? What is it that I become so afraid of when I step outside of the narrow boxes? What horrible tragedy do I think will crash from the sky? And the answer is nothing. I know better. I know that if I don’t sweep the floors right after I get back from a morning walk with my puppy, no bolt of thunder will strike us both down. I know it can wait until later, or dare I say, tomorrow. And yet, I still am saving for later.
I was the kid who saved the best for last, stored unopened birthday presents for days after to spread out the fun, and somehow came to believe that if I worked hard enough now, I’d get to play more later. So I live with a fear of running out of time, errands and chores elevated to crucial priority, as I scramble to take care of business before I seek out the laughter. If only I can cross off all of the day’s tasks, respond to all emails, return calls, and mail the bills, then I can splash in the puddles. The fatal flaw in this plan is that there’s always more. There’s always more emails, more calls, more dusting, more laundry to be done. And so I get trapped, lost in routines to quench the anxiety, safe in the comfort of the familiar, but in a dimmer world.
Routines are good. We all need structure, places to go, and things to do. I see friends at the dog park and wave to the neighbors each morning on our potty strolls. I don’t have to worry about unpaid bills or massive dust bunnies attacking my guests. Structure gives us space to explore within secure arenas and carves out paths for us in a chaotic world. And some need it more than others. I set down routines at the drop of a hat. On vacation? New routines for the weekend, seeking comfort in order during spontaneous times.
But sometimes life can become one big routine, dulled by familiarity, absent of fresh excitement. This is the danger zone. So I stay on ready alert, seeking out new territories, new adventures, even just new streets to stroll. I spice it up, taking a different route to the grocery store, meeting a friend at an untried restaurant. I ignore the task buzzes from my phone and practice changing the sheets Tuesday rather than Monday as scheduled. It is entirely possible to travel without leaving home, discovering new destinations by finding new eyes. I have to remind myself to be amused rather than annoyed, to search for the stories, the glimmers of humanity, the tidbits of light that peek through ordinary minutes.
But when I remember to look, they are always there, hiding behind the structure, begging to emerge from beneath the routines.
I’d rather not lose my dreams to protect my days.
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