What’s lost in the life of limited leisure

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on December 8, 2019. An image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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This past week I went to see some Gophers and Badgers tussle in a sleet-storm, and it was worth every second. It was a snowy reminder that getting up and out in the world is worth it despite how hard and ugly it can sometimes be.

While visiting relatives in Minnesota I took my daughter to see the Minnesota Golden Gopher football team play their rivals the Wisconsin Badgers. There was every reason not to go. The weather was horrible. All-day flurries meant snow was already piled high on the stadium’s seats like frosty pillows at a Costco. The drive was messy, nothing but red tail lights.

The crowd was full of drunk college kids. And did I mention the long line to get into the bathroom, full of guys seriously worried about not making it?

Why not just watch from home? ESPN filmed their “College Game Day” program live from near the stadium, and the game itself was on national television. Camera coverage almost always beats a single seat view.

While we’re on the subject, why would anyone go to any event these days? The “streaming wars” mean that most Americans have endless great options for entertainment that entice us to “stay in to the movies,” as the HBO advertisement goes.

It’s not just limited to entertainment and sports. The list of order-in products and subscription-from-home grows daily: groceries on delivery, fast-food on delivery, toothbrushes on delivery, underwear on delivery. Our lives have been Uber-simplified.

But with so many reasons to stay home, there’s at least one reason to push back on this trend.

Our humanity. The stakes are precisely that high. While comfort is delivered to our doorstep in neat cardboard boxes these days, something is lost in the life of limited leisure.

One loss is movement. Our ancestors evolved in a more brutal world. They struggled for survival. For us to not keep pace and break free from the comfortable cocoons we’ve made for ourselves is as unnatural as a life without gravity. Resistance can be a good thing.

As difficult as it was to shiver through that football game, it was worth every moment. Which leads to the second great loss—memory. It was my daughter’s first big stadium event, something we’ll never forget.

Even her feet going numb had a happy ending. At half-time, holding back tears, she announced that her feet were blocks of ice. We rushed to a vendor to buy some socks. He was out. But as I asked the man at the counter, a woman next to us overheard our cry for help and said she had an extra pair of foot warmers. She looked at my daughter and asked if she would like to try them. Within minutes of placing them in my daughter’s boots, the magic of unanticipated generosity had completely upended a child’s frown into a satisfied grin.

Most important, my own mother—an enormous Gophers fan—sat next to her granddaughter at a game. They shivered together. They shouted together. They made a memory.

Those are the experiences that make going and doing so important. Seeing with your own eyes. Sharing with others in a social setting. Building memories when you can.

On this last point, memories that last are hard to build. But they are at their most powerful when sparked by a physical stimulus. We’re much more likely to remember the broken bone or first kiss then we are some show we saw on a screen.

Fortunate, physically-able citizens have an obligation to those less fortunate in this respect. The Gazette recently pointed out that local governments in the Pikes Peak region have failed miserably when it comes to meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act. For just one example, the crumbling Carnegie library building in Manitou Springs—likely the most-visited public building in the city—is still not accessible to the disabled, locking out far too many of our fellow citizens from lifelong learning.

We can do better. Even as we reflect on the importance of going and doing in our own lives, we should redouble our efforts to make the same possible for all. The Golden Rule applies here.

Oh, and finally, forget that old timey saying about stopping to smell roses. That’s boring. But when you get a chance to see a Gopher and a Badger wrestle up close and in-person, well, that’s something you’ve got to see. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

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