Today is the final day of my latest visit to South America, and like the day I arrived, Nov. 2, which was the Day of the Dead, I did very little work — just took a three-hour walk and enjoyed the ambience. Now, I couldn’t help thinking that for the last year I have not taken a three-hour walk without either being on a phone or taking notes on an iPad or note pad. This walk, by contrast, consisted solely of getting exercise and fresh air and taking in the sights, and it struck me that my life of late has been deficient in such stress-free “time out.” When I think about it these three aimless hours were not even a fraction of the nearly 5,000 hours so far this year that I wasn’t sleeping. I suddenly realized that I may be the taking the “live fast, die exhausted” approach way too literally, and need to recalibrate my lifestyle to a more relaxed pace.
What really got to me, however was a rather large bird I encountered while wandering the streets of Maldonado, Uruguay. It resembled a kingfisher, and started squawking at me like crazy. I knew either something was wrong, or it was scared of me, or trying to tell me something. Then I glanced over at the adjacent street, and observed a little newborn chick struggling in the gutter in an unsuccessful attempt to mount the curb. As I approached to see if I could pick it up, the bird came sweeping across the road to protect the chick, which proceeded to cross the road, barely being missed by two cars. Another pedestrian then gallantly tried to assist the chick, but the big bird went on the attack again, this time swooping to the other side of the street followed by the chick, which again narrowly missed becoming roadkill.
Just then, an elderly couple intervened, the man stopping traffic with his cane while his wife picked up the chick. The big bird flew overhead without trying to attack them, and the little drama was over. But it made me suddenly conscious of all the things I’ve been missing lately, and of how being constantly preoccupied with business can skew our sense of simple, everyday enjoyment and awareness of our surroundings. Knowing this has been a year of transition for me, I have been so focused on work with my head down for so many months that I seem to have temporarily lost touch with some of my most basic emotions. In fact, my feeling of fear that the chick was going to get hit by a car was probably the sharpest emotional response I have experienced all year, serving as a much-needed reminder to me that there is so much more to life than what we do for a living. It’s something I’ve resolved not to allow myself to forget, along with making sure that aimless walks are a priority for me in the coming year.