Next Year People. If you’ve watched Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” you might recognize the phrase. It refers to the homesteaders in the Midwest who stayed on in the area, even though their farms, finances, and families were repeatedly ravaged by drought and dust storms. They stayed put and kept the hope, always thinking “next year” would be better. Next year, the sun would come out and they would be happy.
For many of them, it never got better.
Thich Nhat Hahn, one of my heroes, gently reminds us that the present moment is all there is. “Our appointment with life is in the present moment,” he says. “If we do not have peace and joy right now, when will we have peace and joy–tomorrow, or after tomorrow? What is preventing us from being happy right now?”
Wait, I know what it is. We have to wait until our ship comes in, until we have more money saved up, or finished that degree, or the baby is potty-trained. We must wait to be happy until Friday afternoon, when the weekend starts, or until the dishes are done, or the errands are run. We have to wait until the kids are grown and gone, until our stock portfolio matures, until we’ve renovated the entire house, or until we have enough age, work history, money, maturity. Until the house is paid off, we lose that 20 pounds, or the dog dies. We have to wait until the kids leave home and we are able to retire, sell the house, buy a smaller place in Florida where we can golf and wait to die. Freedom, happiness, joy, dreams… these things don’t come until the time is perfect.
Dr. Seuss said it best. As I sit here writing this, I remembered the famous lines from his book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, and wished I had it handy. And, not a coincidence (since I no longer believe in coincidences), it happens to be sitting on the floor of the camper next to me, one of the few kids’ books we brought with us on this trip. Hallelujah!
He says we have wonderful places to go, but INSTEAD many people rush at a “break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed…” he fears… “for a most useless place. The Waiting Place.”
And here, in The Waiting Place, people are waiting to live their lives.
“Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.”
We were once kids, reading this book, or perhaps we were parents reading the book to our own children. When we read it, we BELIEVED we could do “anything under the sky.” We BELIEVED we could go places, do magical things, that there was “fun to be done.”
But somewhere along the way, we woke up to reality. We got responsible. We have work to do, things to buy, bills to pay. We need to work hard, long hours so we can take care of our people. We need to push our dreams below the surface because there is simply too much to do.
When was the last time you assessed? Or analyzed what it takes to be happy? Dreams don’t come true without first deciding what they are. And then figuring out how to make them become a reality. How many songbirds are waiting tables? How many future novelists are crunching numbers? Who’s the ballerina working as a secretary?
It IS POSSIBLE. Life is too short to hope for next year. The only moment you have, for sure, is the one right in front of you. And the only mistake you can make is to do nothing.
Pretend I’m your beloved Dr. Seuss and you’re six years old. And listen to me when I say: “KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS… So… get on your way!”
A quiz: if you could DO anything, BE anything, what would it be? (No fair using age, gender, race, money situation, background, or education as an excuse for why you can’t. Can’t is a four-letter word.) –Comment below–