We were sitting in a small, musty telegraph office in a narrow, smoky alley in Kathmandu, Nepal on Christmas. It was late at night. A dim light bulb dangling from the ceiling flickered on and off. Old phones lined the wall in booths along one side of the room. We had just booked calls to the states to speak with our families and were killing time, waiting for them to be patched through; this was a period that preceded wide spread internet and cell phones.
My daughter was spending her high school junior year at an international boarding school in the Himalayas of Northern India and I had traveled there with one of her best friends to visit. We had wound our way to Nepal to spend time with one of my friends and her son during her holiday break.
The girls were playing gin rummy on an old wooden table while I stretched out on a bench daydreaming. It struck me in that moment that this whole scene was a little exotic. In fact, as I reminisced, I realized that I have had many such exotic experiences over these past decades. Bumming around on sailboats, cruising through the South Pacific; living on an island in the Territory of Papua New Guinea, working as a bush nurse traipsing around jungles while grossly exceeding my medical skill levels because there were no doctors; traveling around the world lecturing at midwife conferences
My mind continued to drift sleepily back through time when out of nowhere, I heard a loud, belligerent voice. – SO WHAT!
“Did you hear that,” I asked my daughter, sitting bolt upright. “Hear what?” she replied, staring at me blankly. “Someone just shouted, SO WHAT,” I said. “Uh, I don’t think so,” she replied, looking around at the empty room. Then I heard it again. This time I realized the voice was in my head, coming out of my consciousness somehow. Whoa… I paused. I am definitely not someone who hears voices.
Then, somehow I got it. This was an existential moment. The question for me, as I saw it was: What is the bigger point here beyond just moving from one peak moment to the next, however seductive or fabulously exotic these moments might be? What am I taking from them? How have these experiences changed me, informed my life? Am I kinder? Wiser? Less something negative – more something positive? I had no answer; I had never thought about life in this way. But somehow I knew I should pay attention here, that this was an opening to something important, maybe even life changing. I thought deeply about those questions, and continue to do so. Now when I am thoroughly lost in something, and if I have the wherewithal to pause and take a step back, I ask myself: SO WHAT? Seriously, in the big scheme of things, what’s really important here? I have found these So What Moments to be helpful in keeping on course, especially when I am being hopelessly mindless and need a nudge.