Charles Garfield shared this story in 1996 Condensed Chicken Soup for the Soul:
Late one morning in 1984, headed for lunch in San Francisco, I drove toward a booth. I heard loud music. It sounded like a party. I looked around. No other cars with their windows open. No sound trucks. I looked at the toll booth. Inside it, the man was dancing.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m having a party,” he said.
“What about the rest of the people?” I looked at the other toll booths.
He said, “What do those look like to you?” He pointed down the row of toll booths.
“They look like… toll booths. What do they look like to you?”
He said, “Vertical coffins. At 8:30 every morning, live people get in. Then they die for eight hours. At 4:30, like Lazarus from the dead, they reemerge and go home. For eight hours, brain is on hold, dead on the job. Going through the motions.”
I was amazed. This guy had developed a philosophy, a mythology about his job. Sixteen people dead on the job, and the seventeenth, in precisely the same situation, figures out a way to live. I could not help asking the next question: “Why is it different for you? You’re having a good time.”
He looked at me. “I knew you were going to ask that. I don’t understand why anybody would think my job is boring. I have a corner office, glass on all sides. I can see the Golden Gate, San Francisco, and the Berkeley hills. Half the Western world vacations here… and I just stroll in every day and practice dancing.”
Held hostage by reality
We are locked in a prison. Past failures and future fears trap us in an inescapable present. Most people give up. They do not try to improve their lives, they just stare at the cold, hard walls of reality and go no further in life. A few, however, have learned how to party in their prison. They have learned to live the moment where they are.
Living in the past
Of course, a bad past can haunt you until you do nothing valuable today. However, a good past can be just as bad! Many child progenies become adult failures because they are always looking back to what they did. They should look at the path they are on now and what worthwhile thing they can do in the present.
Borrowing from the future
Most people are in debt because they live tomorrow before it comes. Jesus warned us against living tomorrow’s worries before they come. We must live today and enjoy each fear and challenge as it comes.
Make the most of the moment
The past and the future are bookends that prop up your present reality. The blank page is this moment. You are right here making a decision in the next few moments to blend your present with what has been or what will be. Will you see the best of your current circumstances? Will you improve your identity? Will you make a legacy of this day?
Dance in your cubicle. Party in your prison. Fill each day with the love of God and hope He brings. Turn from the mistakes of your past, identify with Jesus’ Name in your present, and seal your future with the gift of God’s Spirit. This will redeem your past and guarantee your future. Then live the moment.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.