Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the US Military Academy at West Point. Pretty impressive – the architecture, the history, the setting, and most of all, the stories of the cadets and the life they lead there. Talk about spit and polish, rules and regulations, to the nth degree. One of the buildings we toured was the mess hall, where cadets are subjected to extremely precise rituals, from how far from the back of the chair that they’re required to sit (3”), the exact wording they have to use to announce the cold beverage of the meal, the order of serving, even the precise chewing and swallowing intervals. An infraction of any of these regulations can be awarded demerits, which they must work off by marching ‘tours’, one hour for each demerit. To say that being a cadet at West Point requires a great deal of self-discipline is an understatement on par with “Houston, we have a problem.”
Would I want to go to West Point? No. Do I admire that level of commitment (upon graduation, the cadets face a mandatory five years in the military)? Yes. We met some of the cadets, and they were an impressive group. I’m in awe of anyone who has that sense of devotion and drive, especially considering that in my own life, I tend to lurch from indecision to indecision.
While we were at West Point, we stayed at the Thayer Hotel, which offers idyllic views of the Hudson River, a completely different type of inspiration. Looking out over the water, you can’t help but admire the beauty and ponder on the timelessness of the scenery. The hotel has been around since 1926, the Hudson River, oh, about fifteen thousand years, according to geologists. It’s seen a lot of history, and just keeps flowing, and tends to make you realize your puny problems are fleeting in the larger sense of time.
Yet, they can seem big enough in the sense of your time, your time on earth and how much you have left, how much time you have in which to achieve your dreams. In the past year, I’ve seen too many friends and family members deal with problems, particularly health problems, that threaten their ability to do what they want in the time they have. Often these problems have come out of the blue, and control over their own lives was whisked away. I guess I’ve reached the point of realizing I’d better seize the day and not waste time while I’ve got it. I’ve achieved some mighty goals this year, in seeing my two novels published, but there’s so much more I want to do. I’m just beginning to promote the books, after having been laid up myself this winter, and I want time to write the next book that’s already living in my head. Time gets harder and harder to find. So the inspiration I’m leaning on this week is the sense of passion and drive and single-mindedness that is demonstrated by those West Point cadets, set against the beauty and timelessness and natural flow of the Hudson River. Somewhere there’s a lesson for me about following my passion while still recognizing the inevitability of life’s tricks and turns.
Is this all getting a little deep? Maybe. It’s 1:46 am, I can’t sleep, and life does seem to loom large at this hour. I wonder, how does one achieve the balance between responsibilities and passions? What inspires YOU, and how do you bring commitment to those things that matter most? (Is that question too deep for a blog response?) Or at least, how do you feel about the way you use your time?