A couple years ago I made a concerted effort to read all the books I was supposed to read in high school. I was never a big fan of homework, and I got by all right simply by paying attention in class. I don’t know that in four years I ever read an entire book in any class, but English was always one of my better subjects. I’ve since come to learn to love to read, but one book I have not yet finished is The Great Gatsby. I’ve picked it up once or twice, and even though I think I would enjoy it I’ve never made it all the way through.
Particularly after seeing Tom Hiddleston’s performance in Midnight in Paris this summer, I think I would also really enjoy the company of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Seeing the lifestyles they led in 1920s Paris makes me wonder what his definition of “rich” is, but I have come to discover the great truth in his statement that the very rich are different from you and me. Then again, not only am I glad that I am unlike the very rich, I also take a small amount of satisfaction in that I am different from most other people.
This winter I am volunteering with a great organization that teaches kids they can literally conquer mountains. Youth Enrichment Services takes inner city kids to ski resorts across New England and teaches them to ski or snowboard. While I don’t ski nearly as much as I would like to, I am on my K2s enough to know that rarely do you see someone with skin darker than mine on a chairlift. Giving low-income, largely minority children the same opportunity I had as a kid growing up to feel the rush of racing down a mountain is better than that rush itself.
Last weekend I was in New Hampshire learning how to become a ski instructor (and inviting myself to breakfast with a United States Senator – but that’s another post) and, unlike other training trips where they stayed in a chalet, we were being housed in a local hotel. It was nice enough, but particularly after a couple locals got a little too familiar at the bar across the street, my fellow volunteers all decided it was time to return to their rooms and crash. Seeing as there were several hours left in Saturday night, not to mention several prime socialable hours in Sunday morning, I was not ready to retire.
In a hotel with little to do, however, I had to content myself watching the 4th quarter of an NFC game I was only partially interested in, reading a couple articles I’d been saving on my phone, and then turning out the lights well before midnight. It was the earliest I’d been to bed in some time, and it resulted in the most sleep I’ve gotten in a while.
Each night when I go to bed it almost feels like a personal failure. I don’t like it at all. My tasks list never gets any shorter, and even if I was caught up there would still be plenty to do. I’ve got a stack of books I want to read. There are a million places I’ve never been, countless movies I’ve never seen, billions of people I’ve never met. Not only do I not know anything about any number of subjects, there are fields of study that I don’t even know exist. People are suffering all over the world and crying out for help, yet I am expected to spend a third of my life unconscious.
How, with all that is out there, can I possibly spend any more time than I have to asleep? I fight it each night, even long after I have ceased being productive. I click around in Quicken, as if I am suddenly going to gain some magical new insight into my finances by looking at the same graph 10 times. I’ll check the same dozen websites as if anyone is awake and updating them at 2 a.m. I search in vain for anything worthwhile to watch on TV. I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid turning out the lights until finally, out of sheep boredom more often than not, I submit to the downturn in my circadian rhythm and close my eyes.
A few hours later I am battling the alarm clock and starting all over again. The pile of books only grows, the to do list only gets longer, and my ignorance only decreases but slightly. No matter what dreams may come, there is still plenty more left to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I will sleep when I’m dead.