I remember squirming uncomfortably in my seat as I waited at the bus stop. The bus was late. I had things to do that day and was annoyed that my car was at home. It would have been so much faster to drive.  I pulled out my phone and opened my email. My index finger scrolled through the list of appointment reminders, pre-health mailing group emails, and amazon receipts, selecting everything that it could. Eventually satisfied with its choices, it hovered over the delete button.  I let it fall until it finally landed with a triumphant thud on the touch screen. But now what? The anxiety came back. I needed something to do. Every minute I waited for the bus was another minute that I could have worked on a paper, or explored a new place, or had a conversation with a friend. Every minute on the hard cold metal of the bench was a minute I would never get back.

So often I feel this urge to work, this anxious need to do something,  to get up and go. The more experiences I can fit into one twenty-four hour period, the more accomplished I feel. In college I felt that I met a lot of people who didn’t understand that, who squandered their time, who grinded away at a major they didn’t like to get a job they didn’t want, to fit comfortably into a society where we exchange our precious time for material possessions that will inevitably rot away as time passes on. I met people who spent their free time watching stories on Netflix and living lives through video games that they could have in reality. I wanted to be the opposite of this. In my mind every day should have new experiences, every moment should be worthwhile. And I still believe that, but I think I’ve been doing it wrong.

I now realize that a lot of that time I spent “being productive,”  exclusively on new experiences  was wasted, because I never took the time to examine what I was doing. I and so many others  have become so caught up in the hustle of a world of “the new”, a world of forward motion that we have stopped taking the time to reflect on the new experiences that we have, and in doing so we devalue them. There’s no consolidation. There’s no storage. We lose the true value of these experiences because we forget to remember them and more importantly to don’t really learn the lessons that they have to teach. I’ve spent so many years chasing new and interesting experiences, but outside of the occasional application essay, I rarely take time to go back and explore why I did them, what they meant, and look at the tiny details that make them unique.

Another Bonderman Fellow, Scott Haber, said to me “I feel like my experiences are analogous to the wake of a ship - memories which trail behind me, losing their forms, gradually fading as time passes. But I press forward. I keep moving.” I wonder how hard it is to capture that wake and if it is possible to preserve. I would guess that it’s probably easier for some, but I suspect those of us with more extroverted personalities are more challenged in this regard. We are always with others, and this presents a problem.  

Using myself as an example, I don’t remember the last time I was genuinely alone. When I’m at home, my family is there. When I go to campus, I am always with friends. When I’m driving, I’m talking to someone on speaker phone. And this works for me, I feel happy and content in these situations, but I am missing out on the upsides of being alone. This highly social lifestyle does not lend itself well to reflection. It’s the reason this is only my second post. And, if I’m being honest, the only reason that I have time to sit down and type this is because the friend whose house I’m currently in had to run out for an errand. I am terribly in-experienced in aloneness and yet a state of aloneness is the easiest time to reflect.  And now I’m here. Preparing to embark on what may be the most experience-rich and simultaneously isolating experience of my life and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to take it and whether I’ll be able to cope with this new world of aloneness. I’m nervous for that, but also excited to see what insights this new way of living will bring me.

In the meantime, though, as I run through the hustle and bustle of daily life on this campus, I think I need to start appreciating places like that bus stop. It think it’s important that we take those little moments of aloneness, of quiet, those tiny lulls in the day, as treat them as a temporary solace from our incessant busyness. Look up at bird, watch a happy couple stroll by, hear the music of the car engines, and breath deeply.

Until next time

Stephen Dowker