Unintended Gifts on #GivingTuesday

On a day focused on giving, I was presented an unexpected gift tonight on #GivingTuesday. It wasn’t wrapped and it wasn’t something on an Amazon wishlist.

For those that don’t know me that well, it’s best I share that I am quite frugal. My friends tell me I am cheap. Seldom do I put a fair value on my time and choose convenience over cost. This past weekend I drove 25 minutes to the car dealer for a “free” car wash. Then another 15 minutes to drive home. I traded an hour of my life for a $3 car wash.

As is quickly becoming a pattern, whenever I hustle out of the office to catch an express train home, something goes amiss. One train lost power at the station and was unable to roll homeward. Another train was halted due to a collision at a station in between my home and the city.

Tonight, I power walked to the train station to catch the 5:20 express. Walking through the crowded cars, I settled into a seat and cranked through some emails and Excel sheets as the train swayed toward the west. I received an alert from Twitter that an earlier train struck a person near the end of the train line. Shortly thereafter the train slowed, eventually coming to a stop. The conductor’s crackled voice filled the train car with news that we would be briefly stopped due to an early collision with a person. After a few minutes the train started slowly moving again before coming to a stop at the station before mine.

The conductor’s voice returned with an update that our train would be indefinitely stopped at the station before my destination. I opened ride sharing apps to see the cost of a ride to the garage where my car sleeps during the day. The stations are about three miles apart. Initially the estimate was $5-7. Once I exited the train car, the rates had surged to $20-25 for the three mile/10 minute drive.

As we previously calculated at the car wash, my valuation of my time is sub $3 an hour. I clearly wasn’t going to spend 6-7x my hourly rate.

Instead, I popped in my headphones, set my tunes to shuffle, slung my backpack over my shoulders and started the walk bearing NW parallel to the silent train tracks. My mind wandered through alternative scenarios. Yesterday I thought I could walk/bike to the train and take the evening train to my girlfriend’s house. Had I done that I wouldn’t be running up my pedometer. My hope in catching the express train home was that I would have time to make my weekly visit to the gym. There were no gyms along my route and I didn’t have my gym clothes. Even if there were a gym, I didn’t want to be the guy on the elliptical sporting denim.

Now that the sun is a distant memory in the midwest, hiding from me like a passive aggressive roommate, my days have blurred with my nights. Some days I wake up on the train home unsure if I’m heading home or to work. But tonight I was given a gift.

The gift of time.

I now had time. I tilted my head to the stars and tried to identify constellations. One looked familiar but the stars were too faint to be sure. I considered future trips to big sky country so I could really see the vast cosmos. My thoughts wandered to my walks with Leann. Three miles was barely a warm-up compared to previous pedestrian explorations. The scenery along the train tracks pales in comparison to the rolling hills of Florence or the paved streets of Paris. While incredibly balmy for a late-November night in Chicago, it wasn’t nearly as warm as when we walked along the Atlantic in Puerto Rico. I thought about some of the stories I have been meaning to write and haven’t found the time, like the Michigan B&B that served as an Olympic-caliber training facility for a backstroking moth. Or the time I discovered where all of my sweat glands are thanks to a yoga class in a sauna in hell.

As I walked by the grocery I tried to think if I needed anything. After all, it was conveniently on my way. Many nights I come straight home and make whatever is fastest to get to my mouth (PB&J has been a favorite along with frozen breaded chicken patties). The sidewalk ended and I zagged south for an underpass. With that I was back in my town.

While many people were frustrated with the inconvenience of being dumped far from their homes, I was fortunate to have been given the gift of time to let my mind wander as my legs carried me home. Fortunate to be able to make the walk. Fortunate to have a job to be coming home from. Fortunate for a house to walk to. Fortunate for all the loved ones in my life.

Above all else, someone’s life ended today in that train collision. The unintended hour walk was a timely reminder of all the wonderful blessings I have been given and the supreme value in making the most of every day.