“Today is the one day in the rest of your 85-year life that you get to spend with the elephants.” For perspective, if I live to be 85 years old, this is one day out of 31,025 days in my life that I would spend with the elephants. Nearly one year later to the day and these words still ring clearly in my head. The place was Chiang Mai, Thailand. Patara elephant farm was the site of our adventure where I spent a full day learning to be a mahout with my younger brother. He was on a two-week holiday and agreed to meet me in Bangkok and northern Thailand for a taste of Southeast Asia. I was backpacking for a year. From practicing Thai commands to swimming with elephants in waterfalls, it is a vivid memory that we have together and one that I hope won’t be erased. For the past year of traveling throughout Asia, I have had so many of these glorious firsts — wandering around ancient temples in Siem Riep, attending a sumo match, hearing the Dalai Lama speak, trekking to Everest base camp, traveling by motorbike in the Mekong Delta.
Each day full of possibility, renewal, and intrigue all within my grasp. Only now do certain images, sounds, tastes trigger the past and evoke nostalgia for days when my openness to the world could allow any adventure to fall in my lap. During this time, I grew to love my life again, to find happiness, and I awoke each day with this recurring thought, “I love my life.” I wanted so badly to bottle up this feeling and take it with me as if creating an antidote for the secret to life…if only it were that easy.
The words from Patara’s owner, an expert mahout, resound yet it’s not necessarily the time spent with the elephants that holds the most sway. Sure it was an incredible experience, okay, a once in a lifetime experience. However, that act of looking at one day as a valuable one in series of days upon years upon decades of existence is what resonates with me most. The act of examining one’s life on a daily basis. One year later, those words still echo in my head and beckon me to live in the present and be ever mindful of its gift. What will today bring? How will this day be different from the rest?
In returning to the United States, to a more routine schedule, I am challenged to make this happen. The activities may fluctuate, but the same method applies. Will today be the day that I write my senator expressing my opinion about gun control laws? Or will today be the day of my first niece says my name? Will it be the day that I forgo my takeaway dinner and give it to a homeless person? In this world where I have witnessed the poorest of people demonstrate generosity and offer food, shelter and kindness, I have found that big things can mean a great deal yet the little things in life matter greatly too. So in the whole of your long 85-year old life, what will today bring? My mantra for 2013: Be open. Be present. And make today count.