I'm not certain whether this is really good advice to offer in all cases, because "living in the moment" can bring about gun violence, aborted babies and unrestrained government spending. One can just as well live in the past, safeguarding life-long values, as well as for the future, working at how one might improve your lot in life. At the moment, all you really have is that moment. However (as if you didn't know that was coming!), sometimes I relish not thinking about anything other than what the moment offers me, though I am still learning how to do so in a balanced way. I am most disposed to the moment when I live more for others, less for myself, with Christ-like patience, kindness and genuine interest, particularly, with those whom I come into contact with as individuals worthy of invested respect and attention. This lesson has been especially ingrained in me after having been locked down for at least a year under Draconian Covid regulations and restrictions.
I experienced just such an "in the moment" opportunity when I decide to stop for lunch while attending to responsibilities. Thank goodness I was aware enough to set my phone aside and dig into the circumstances life then presented me. I pulled up to an In-N-Out, but the line was too long to wait out, so I chose to dine in that day. (FYI: "In-N-Out" is an iconic chain of southern California drive-through restaurants where the food is cheap and consistently good, attested to by the popular long lines of people waiting in their cars to be served.) After ordering, I found there was no place inside to eat, so I sat at an outdoor bench in a brick and cement semi-circle, watching people come and go while waiting for my order to be picked up. A tiny boy walked away with his mother waving to the man seated next to me, a biker with long hair and faded Levis and leather gloves. We both chuckled lite-heartedly at the child.
A worker behind the counter called my number and I collected my hamburger, fries and coke, and headed for the outside parking cement tables and seating. There was only one table left, at the end of a row of tables, so I sat down at that one. The biker-guy walked up to “my” table and asked if he could join me. I was happy for the company and invited him: “of course! Welcome!”
He fidgeted with his pocket and pulled out a cell phone, put it to his ear, and murmured in exasperation: “work! They don’t leave me alone!” He looked at the phone a few times, putting it back to his ear and didn’t say much, so I just chewed on my burger quietly. After a long while, he put the phone down on the table and bit into his sandwich. “I can’t get away for lunch!” he exclaimed.
"Where do you work?” I asked.
“For the railroad. I’m an engineer.”
“Cool!” I chimed. “You drive the rails?”
“Yes, 80 or 90 hours a week, seven days a week. They like to work their people.”
“Sounds like it,” I echoed. “Do they really need you for that many hours?”
“Oh, they could use extra workers, but they won’t hire them because they don’t want to pay their pensions when they retire. So they work us pretty hard. I drive engines from Los Angeles to Barstow, 12 hour shifts, but it takes me an hour and a half to drive from here (Redlands) to there. I get three, maybe four hours of sleep a night.” He paused. “You don’t just go home and go to bed you know.”
“No, you don’t,” I echoed.
He snorted, picked up a French fry and threw it to a bird. He laughed.
“The bird got it?”
“Yeah, it already had one fry in its beak and picked up mine with its feet, then flew off.” He took off his sunglasses and put then on the table. His eyes were blue, his face sunburned, his smile genuine.
“Yeah, I’ll be working until I put my kids through college, then retire and die a month after that,” he sighed aloud.
I didn’t know what to say, so I asked how many children he had.
“Two, a boy and girl, 15 and 13.” He looked older than a father of two teenagers, with his graying ponytail and paunchy belly, but then again, what did I know?
“Do you have the opportunity to ride the rails for free, like the airline pilots do?” I wondered aloud.
Between bites of a sandwich and gulps of a coke, he answered: “yes, if I want to go to Barstow.” His eyes twinkled for a moment. “That’s about as far as I’d get.
I took off my glasses and set them down on the table, then noted in a studious manner: “The trains helped make this country what it is. I mean, that’s where we got the time zones.” I thought he would be duly impressed with my knowledge of the history of trains.
"Lots of graft in trains as well,” he went on, with a nod. “Yeah, politicians still steal land from people.” He paused for effect, then continued, “You can still buy politicians off, you know.”
“Mm…” I nodded knowingly, not really knowing anything about railroad politics and graft.
“So, I got my bike, and a house, and make plenty of money, but it’s just enough to pay for things. Well,” he got up to go, nodding in a friendly fashion, “you have yourself a good afternoon, now.”
“You too!” I said in farewell. He was already climbing on his motorcycle, and within seconds roared down the roadway, large as life. Now I have a new friend, I mused, hurrying home to record this little nugget on my computer like a squirrel saving up for a long winter, when I paused to shudder and reflect: if I hadn't set my phone aside, what marvels would I have missed out on present there for me to take in?
Now if I can only balance this insight with my impatience when I forget my phone or the place where I last laid my keys.