The woman paused at the front door and carefully checked her bag. Satisfied she had everything, she opened the door and headed outside. The day was sunny but with a slight chill in the air. The giant maple in her front yard was already beginning to turn from deep green to a lovely shade of orange. Across the street, her neighbor’s oak trees showed little sign of changing colors yet, while their black locust tree sported a full complement of tiny yellow leaves.
She walked briskly down the sidewalk heading to town. She crossed two streets, turned a corner and headed down the main thoroughfare into town. Her town wasn’t large but it was busy at this time of day. Four bicyclists passed by having a lively conversation amongst themselves. A man walked by going the opposite direction. They exchanged brief smiles as they passed.
The woman stopped at a crosswalk and debated which way she wanted to head. She turned left and headed east to a favorite area of downtown that she often spent time at. Another crosswalk, one brief pause to let two runners pass by with courteous nods from each, and she had reached her destination.
The local bank branch office stood sedately on the west side corner. Across the street was a pizza parlor busy with lunch time traffic. Several cars drove past, the occupants intent on their destinations. A harried mom with three young children in tow didn’t even notice the woman standing on the sidewalk until she almost ran into her. A hurried apology and a strained smile and the mom continued on her way.
With a sigh, the woman settled herself on a bench placed under a spreading maple tree. This maple had leaves that were streaked in red across the fading green. The bench she occupied faced a tiny park consisting of several trees, a narrow path angling diagonally across the greenspace, and two more benches placed next to each other but at a crooked angle. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
She opened the bag she had slung across her shoulder and removed a small sketch pad, some pencils, two drawing pens, and her phone. She placed the bag on the bench beside her and the pad and pens on her lap. Her phone she held in her hand. She was now ready.
She looked up at the tree’s canopy of leaves and wondered at the way the colors in the leaves seemed to blend together in artistic harmony yet still could be seen as distinct colors. The wind softly blew through the leaves making them dance and sway. She opened her sketch pad and drew a few quick line drawings of the leaves. Looking at what she had drawn caused her to smile. It wasn’t the greatest drawing, it was actually rather amateurish, but she didn’t mind. She drew to remember her experiences, to keep them close in her heart, not for accolades from others.
A rustling in the leaves on the ground to the right of where she sat made her look up. At first, she saw nothing, but then a small pile of leaves began to move slightly. Suddenly a small head popped up out of the leaves followed by a reddish-brown body clutching a small acorn in its hands. The red squirrel sat up on its hind legs and held the nut close to its mouth. She lifted her phone to snap some photos, and the squirrel cast a wary eye in her direction. She kept snapping photos, and the squirrel continued to stare. After a few brief moments, the squirrel went back to examining its nut and paid the woman no more attention.
She put down her phone, jotted down a couple quick notes about the squirrel in her sketch pad, and drew one small sketch. She paused then and just watched the squirrel as it went about its business gathering a few more acorns, twitching its tail, and occasionally looking in her direction. After while the squirrel headed off to the other side of the park and disappeared.
Clouds began to gather and block out the sun. The light breeze blew a little harder. She zipped up her jacket to ward off the chill the wind created and slowly began to gather her things. Somewhere close a bird cheerily sang a brief melody. In the distance, the hoarse caw of a crow could be heard.
The woman stood up and brushed off a few leaves that clung to her bag. She took one last look around at the tiny green oasis in the middle of the bustling little town. She smiled, then turned and headed back towards home. At the corner, she hesitated. Home beckoned, but first she would stop at her favorite bakery and pick up some of those delicious, flaky pastries that her family loved so much. A perfect way to end to a lovely afternoon.
At What Cost
Every day we make choices: simple ones, difficult ones, indifferent ones. Do we ever consider that the choices we make can affect other people for good or bad, or do we just follow the crowd, the media, our friends, the latest TV show? How often do we push others aside just to get what we think is our due, our right, no matter what?
From the moment we become aware of the people around us, we embark on a quest to be first, the top dog, the king of the mountain. Society rewards those who make it to the top. We give medals and trophies to teams and individuals who beat out everyone else.
There isn’t anything wrong with trying and working to be the best you can be. Success is an admirable goal to achieve as long as we don’t leave a trail of broken people, wreaked relationships, and messed up lives. Where we get tripped up is when we attempt to be the best at the expense of others.
Many paths exist to reach the top of any endeavor. Some are long and arduous, others come easily with no great effort. Paths to success can involve many people or can include only you and one or two others. But no matter which way is chosen, there are always consequences to our choices.
We can choose to rise to the top by kicking, scratching, and roughing up all those around us. This is a way often chosen because it is the easy way. Why care about the ones around you? You are not responsible for them. If they can’t make it in this world, it isn’t your problem. That other person, business, organization was in your way, and they needed to move or else. This is one way, and society quite frequently rewards such behavior with admiration for how tough they were and how easily they tossed aside their competitors. It is all just a game to end up on top at the expense of anyone who gets in the way. Fairness doesn’t really play a part.
How many of those same competitors reach the top, grab their reward, and bask in their glory for a brief moment until they are off again to obtain an even higher level. At what point are we satisfied? Do we always have to push forward ever higher? Can we ever enjoy the work we have done, the goals we have reached? Isn’t the process, the learning, the journey just as important, if not more, than the elusive gold medal at the end?
Do we truly have nothing better to do?
Relatively speaking, we spend a very short time span on this earth, in this life. None of us know how long we have. What a shame it is to spend the time we have reaching for things that don’t even give us pleasure or fulfillment when we achieve them.
The medals, the titles, the accolades really are fleeting and transitory. What does last are the relationships we make along the way. The people we come in contact with every day and the positive impact we can have on their lives should be so much more important to us than clawing our way up the ladder— whether socially, politically, professionally, or personally.
It’s all about taking time to really live. The journey and the people you are with along the way are really what matters most. Go ahead and strive for your goals, challenge yourself, reach higher than ever before, but don’t forget to enjoy where you are right now and the people you are blessed to be around.
That is something so much better to do.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds at meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you have learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies.
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