“Where you are is the most exclusive proposition there is. You cannot be in two places at once.”
There’s a coach at a gym I used to go to who likes to wax philosophical before grueling workouts, in order to offer participants a source of distraction—or, alternatively, a new level of intensity. This snippet of one Independence Day speech lodged in my brain long enough for me to remember to write it down after 2 miles of running, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 bodyweight squats. In fact, I recently discovered that it hadn’t shaken loose yet when I found myself standing in my kitchen at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, repeating those words to two very sleepy-eyed friends.
They weren’t impressed. One may even have said, “Well, yeah. That’s pretty obvious.”
But it isn’t so much a brilliant statement as it is a reminder of responsibility—we can’t be anywhere but where we are, so we should take care to be fully present. As Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
If I’ve learned anything about the will of God in my lifetime, it’s that it’s not limited the way we humans like to think it is. Our life purposes are not so specific that we can derail them with a single “off-plan” choice. While we’re restricted to the “timeline view” of our lives, with no ability to see the future, God exists outside of time so that no challenge we face or opportunity we’re presented with surprises him.
So unless you’re in a situation that makes you really uncomfortable for good reason—but even then, sometimes—it’s a safe bet that moment falls under the very broad heading “situations that are the will of God.” Which is to say, be present always.
You never know which moments will turn out to be the most significant. We remember extraordinary experiences and great times with people we love and scenarios that triggered strong emotions, sure, but what about that offhand remark someone made to you fourteen years ago, or that one specific night that wasn’t remarkable in any discernible way but stands out so vividly from the others, or that time you ran down a familiar trail and just felt indescribably alive?
I was walking on the beach with a friend one night recently, remembering another night on a very different beach almost five years prior. There were six of us then, a friend group formed during our freshman year of college and re-solidifying after a spread-out summer. We walked along the water’s edge and we asked each other questions like, “if you could have a superpower what would it be?” and “what’s your favorite natural object?” Nothing momentous happened that night, but I remember thinking, There is nowhere else I would rather be right now, and because I gave myself over to that moment to be fully present and fully participant, it’s probably the memory I would use to conjure my Patronus (which would definitely be a snow leopard, by the way).
It may seem a perfectly ordinary situation, but the potential for an extraordinary moment is always present—its realization depends only on your willingness to be present. It’s when we engage with where we are and who we’re with that we start to recognize everything we’d miss otherwise—the grace, the joy, the cute boy who keeps sneaking glances from across the room. “We cannot be in two places at once,” so we might as well live to the hilt in whatever place we find ourselves.