Because I Can


Photos via Pixabay.

by Rob Colfax

Last weekend my daughter was home from college. She’s taken up walking in the mornings, not because she needs the exercise (she has the metabolism of a hummingbird) but because she’d decided that it was easier to walk from her apartment to classes at the university than to circle the various parking lots, hoping to find an empty space. She likes to sleep in, and none of her classes start before 10 a.m. By that time, she tells me, there’s not a prayer of finding a parking space within a mile of the campus.

She also told me when I asked, that no, the university would not refund the $35 parking-sticker fee I’d paid for at the beginning of the semester. When her mother overheard, this instigated a rather animated family discussion about how much it could possibly cost to pave or gravel a 300-square-foot spot and how universities all over the country must be racking up big bucks by requiring students to have parking decals without providing adequate parking facilities. But that’s another story.

My daughter agreed to meet me at the local walking trail near the post office one morning. I usually hike the mountain behind our house, but the walking trail isn’t bad. It’s nicely landscaped, and although the maples had already lost many of their leaves, the oaks and cottonwoods were just at their peak of fall colors. I had early errands to do, plus packages to drop off at the post office, so the timing worked out just about right. By the time I escaped from the line at the post office, my little night-owl had just begun to prance down the walking trail in what I assumed was some free-form modern dance.

I watched this in some amusement for a moment or two. I could see the cord from the tiny earbuds, so I figured she was listening to her latest downloaded music from bands I’d never heard of, probably cranked up to that ear-splitting volume. After some brisk walking, I caught up to her and tapped her on the shoulder to let her know I was there.

She handed me one of her earbuds. “You’ve gotta hear this,” she grinned.

“What is it?” I asked, expecting some blast of synthesized drumbeats. Instead, I heard the familiar voice of NPR’s Ira Glass.

“You can get This American Life as a podcast!” she informed me, doing another odd little hop-skip move down the concrete walkway. “Free!” she added.

“That’s great,” I agreed, handing her earbud back. “But what’s with the dancing?”

She looked at me as though I’d lost my mind. “What are you talking about?”

“That hoppy-jumpy side-stepping stuff,” I gestured as she did it again.

“Oh!” She caught herself in mid-step and laughed at me. “That’s not dancing, Dad. I’m just trying not to step on the snails. They’re all over the walkway.”

I looked down. She was right; the walkway was covered with brown spiral shells no bigger than your fingernail, each with a tiny snail making its leisurely way over the damp concrete. I hadn’t even noticed, but my daughter had. “You’re avoiding the snails? Why?” I asked.

She shrugged and smiled. “Because I can.” She stuck her earbuds back in and went skip-stepping on her way. dancing girl

It made me laugh and shake my head. I thought about how often I hear people use “because I can” to justify some unsavory or inexcusable behavior. And here was my daughter, showing me in some Zen-like way, that you can also use it as a reason to engage in mindful acts: to be kind when it’s not necessary, generous when it’s not required.

Just for today, I challenge you to become aware of what you’re doing, to take notice of the small things in your life that you might not ordinarily pay attention to. Like the snails on the sidewalk, something we would ordinarily regard as small and insignificant might hold an entire world if we stopped to look closely enough. And once you recognize this, it becomes much harder to mindlessly crush it underfoot. Sure, you may have to take some extra care to avoid doing so, but why not make the choice to give life instead of taking it?

Do it because you can. From a distance, it just might look like dancing.

© Copyright 2006 by Rob Colfax. Updated & republished 2011, 2015.

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