By Matt Shapiro
Every parent’s dream, a free babysitter we trust, was available to us, and we didn’t know what to do. With my mom in town this past weekend, my wife, Sarah, and I had earmarked Sunday as a date night; the only problem was that we didn’t know what to do. Our standard has become dinner and a movie, and while there was no shortage of movies we were both interested in (I’m blessed to spend my life with a woman who enjoys action movies over romantic comedies), it seemed stale to do the same old thing. Every idea we had was immediately crossed off for one reason or another—City Walk closes early on Sundays, LACMA isn’t open that late, the funky mash-up dance party I discovered online was the previous Saturday night. Each failed idea made me feel more and more discouraged, ready to just wave the white flag and stay home or, even worse, resign myself to the standard date night option.
After much encouragement by Sarah, I finally dragged myself off the couch to, at the very least, go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, once I was finally out of the house, I started feeling much better; ordering a delicious dinner certainly didn’t hurt either. As we were sitting there, Sarah suggested something that, upon Googling, turned out to be completely doable: the Santa Monica Pier. A favorite of ours during the day, somehow we hadn’t ever been there at night. After finishing our tasty dinner, we zipped down the 10 to our destination (a complete lack of traffic was a major plus, too). We sat on the beach, walked the pier, and bought tickets for some of the rides. We had a blast doing the bumper cars together, and the only thing more fun than the roller coaster was hearing Sarah talk herself into why it wasn’t that scary as we were going up the first incline.
Even though I woke up this morning to the stress of a Monday, even though this was just one small outing, there’s also no doubting how much better I feel. Maybe it’s still the residual rush from the roller coaster (like I said above, I don’t get out much), but seeing that we could fight through that place of being stuck, go out, do something a little different than usual, have a good time together…it’s invaluable. It’s all too convenient to get seduced into the idea that life should be easy, that once a relationship, a job, a schedule gets set, it can run on auto-pilot. In my experience, there are few impulses more dangerous than this one. When I’m on auto-pilot, I’m not present, and if I’m not present, I’m not able to really pay attention to what’s happening, to either what’s going well or to what needs work. Putting effort into the important parts of my life (being a husband, being a father, getting better at my job, etc.) isn’t something that one day, ideally, I won’t have to work at anymore. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to work at each of those things every day of my life. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once suggested that each of us should view our lives as a work of art. Therefore, each moment is a brushstroke, either contributing to or detracting from the overall work. It can be easy for this concept to be overwhelming, but it also speaks to the power of each moment, that at any time I can decide to take one more step toward creating the artwork I envision. Especially if there are bumper cars.