“The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are.” – John Burroughs
For years, I have used this quote from American naturalist John Burroughs as my mantra to justify who I am, where I am in my life, and what I am doing. I looked to these words for some evidence that I was on a right path with my life.
It is a short and eloquent quote that’s easy to remember and one that sounds both profound and enlightened—words not often used to describe my thoughts or speech. I can easily toss it out at a cocktail party or use it to back up some deep theological conversation I am having, and yes, it is an insightful and simple statement, but not for the reason or meaning that I had come to believe or live by.
The problem, as I discovered, was that for many years I misinterpreted these two modest sentences. I realize now that there is a truer, deeper meaning to this quote, which I had been overlooking and I wouldn’t have discovered it without the help of the Buddha. What I have learned is that the “distant and the difficult” is something we cannot see or even know to exists because it is the future; thus, it is truly deceptive, because we have no promise of an earthly future. Unfortunately, most of us live our lives today as if we are all guaranteed a tomorrow.
One simple piece of advice I try to share with new dads is to not tell their children “we will do that one day” when their kids ask to do something or go somewhere. I remind them that one day will quickly turn into six thousand days before they know it, and their sixteen-year-old son or daughter will want to hang out with their friends instead of tag along with Dad to the hardware store.
In the Bible, the book of James, there is a line that describes our life as “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Can we imagine this world without us in it? We better be able to because, and this is a very simple truth, it is going to happen. Not could, not maybe, but will. What we don’t know is when.
“The great opportunity is where you are.” The other misinterpretation I had about this quote was I assumed “where you are” must have been a place. I understand now that it’s not a place; it’s the present moment. Our place is dictated by where we are right now, and we must all realize and accept that we can’t live in yesterday; it’s over and done. As Thich Nhat Hanh describes, “The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.” Can we remedy the issues and problems of yesterday today? Most definitely, but we can’t if we aren’t living in the present with the awareness that today could be our last. How about tomorrow—can any of us solve the problems of tomorrow today? Many of us believe we can, but in reality, we can’t. As Jesus said in the book of Matthew, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” We need to let the people we love and care about know it today; don’t let this wait for tomorrow.