Finding Balance through a Light Bulb

It was a most atypical experience for me. On a sunny Thursday Oregon morning, I had to take my car in for service
and I decided I would wait it out at the library branch just down the street. I can’t remember the last time I was in a library for something other than an event. I wondered if people even still go to libraries.

I arrived at 9:45 and noticed 4 or 5 people milling around out front. Apparently this library didn’t open until 10:00. In addition to the people out front there were more people milling around by the doors that opened into the parking lot behind the building. So at that point I’m guessing people do still go to the library – so much so they get there before it even opens.

By the time the staff unlocked the doors there are 18 people waiting to get in. (I counted them.) I walk in and find a spot at a table that looks out onto the street. The building is quite well laid out, with a lot of computers, tablets, outlets, etc and of course, books. Within 30 minutes, there are more than 40 people in the library and another 15 who work here. This is a popular place.

There is a guy who came in when I did who is on a computer and playing video games with his Beats headset on. Probably 19 or so. At my table is a young woman working on her computer and a kid who came in with his skateboard. No one seems to understand the common courtesy of muting a cell phone. In fact three people have taken calls. So much for the quiet public library. There is a table behind me with two men whose conversation I can’t help but overhear.

These two are planning a trip to Bozeman, MT but aren’t sure if they want to fly or take a bus. They are looking up fares – air fare and bus fare. I find it curious that they would be considering two such divergent transportation options. I even hear one of them suggesting they consider flying first class. I used to live in Montana – graduated from Montana State in Bozeman. Perhaps I could share my wealth of information about Bozeman and the great state of Montana.

But now they’ve moved on to another conversation – very different from the Bozeman trip. One of the guys is talking about where to get a free meal at night – a place downtown under the Burnside Bridge. The other one says he needs to find a way to get there.

They don’t need my expertise about Bozeman – a trip to Bozeman isn’t their agenda at all. That was a distraction from their reality. It gave them something to strive for. I felt humbled by having experienced their conversation. It was such a “perspective-giving” moment. I have always been challenged to find the balance between “looking to the future” and “being in today.”

A number of years ago while back in Iowa visiting my aging parents, I had a lightning bolt lesson in perspective. I had been in the dining room and as I left that room the light was still on. My mother said to me, “If you’re finished in there would you turn the light off?” I smiled to myself thinking “Yes Mom this light is not going to run up your electric bill.” Then she added, “That light bulb is so hard to change.” I was struck with a mental picture of my mother and father changing this light bulb. One of them would have to be on a step stool with the other one spotting them for balance (although at that point neither had any business doing either).

I realized at that moment that so many everyday things I took for granted were not so easy for them. But even more sobering – so many everyday things they had taken for granted were slipping away from them. As they were aging and having more health challenges, they were losing control of their environment – control they had always known.

I knew that in a couple of days I would be leaving my parents and headed back into the frenetic world of my career, buried in meetings, emails, presentations and one-on-ones. But I carried the memory of the light bulb experience with me. It served as a grounding point. When I got so absorbed in the presumed importance of my work, the light bulb experience would flash into my mind. I would pause, smile and realize that I am so much more than what I do or what I accomplish.

What (or who) is your light bulb reminder?


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