Contemplating Life’s Journey

Bi-weekly columnist Gord Turner ponders the pace, and demands of modern life

Gord Turner

I’m sitting in the dark on my hospital bed in Trail. It’s 5 a.m. and the ward is quiet with no one moving. Not even a nurse.

The hospital at Trail sits on a hump of land above the city, so I have an unusual perspective in the dark. The city appears as simply so many spots of light below and against the black mountainside. At 5 a.m. nothing is moving. Not even a traveler.

I’m amazed here as I often am when I’m in similar situations such as when I’m canoe-camping on the Valhalla shore of Slocan Lake. I am astonished that the world can be such a silent place and that, at this moment, I have time to sit and stare.

“What is this world if full of care/We have no time to stand and stare?” wrote the British poet, W.H. Davies. It’s at dark and gentle times such as this 5 a.m. hospital vigil that the truth of those lines hits home. Most of us do not take enough time to slow down and look around us.

In this 21st Century, we seem to be judged by what we get done. We’re forever on the go. It’s as if we’ve been brainwashed while growing up, so that to stop for a bit is wrong or somehow sinful or against the norm.

As social beings, something in us compels us to be a do-ing.  What would be wrong with sitting on the back porch in the fading sunlight and tossing a few sticks to the dog? Or just enjoying the neighbourhood children at play?

As William Wordsworth once wrote, “The world is too much with us.” We do so many things because we think the people out there expect it of us. True, some of our everyday tasks are enjoyable, but others are simply things we do to fulfill a duty. A neighbour expects it of us, a club committee needs tickets sold, a council requires bylaw development, and local artists are having an show you “must” attend.

We do it to ourselves really, and yet perhaps that’s one aspect of being human—being somewhere, doing something, accepting responsibility, doing our bit to keep the world running. But we have to remind ourselves—it’s only one bit.

A few weeks ago, I was resting on my white yard-chair in the back yard, my feet covered in a scramble of autumn leaves, and my rake propped against the nearby pear tree. I was watching two blue-black stellar jays cavorting in the still heavily-leafed maple. Perhaps they were searching for food, but I thought they were flitting about and jabbering with not a care in the world.

We humans are the ones who are loaded with cares. I’m retired, and yet my calendar is so full between now and the New Year that I’m tired just thinking about it. Many of these events and causes I can’t choose not to do. So I get angry because I have no time for myself.

Ah, there’s the rub—time for myself. Time to sprawl out and rest, time to watch the grandchildren tumble in the leaf piles, time to read a new novel, time to listen to inspired music, time to let the world pass by.

It’s okay to do that, but it’s difficult to convince ourselves. For me, it does seem possible—perhaps even necessary—as I gaze out this hospital window at the pinpoints of light amidst the dark.