When I was pregnant with Madeleine, Dan and I made the first of many annual trips to San Diego in January. My in-laws used to rent a place on Mission Beach for a month or so each year, and we’d drive over and spend a week or long weekend with them there. During those trips, we lazed on the beach, pushed strollers up and down the boardwalk, and rode bikes around Mission Bay. We’d eat Homie’s cinnamon rolls on the rare occasions that we were fortunate to find his shop open. We’d walk to Dairy Queen most nights, dine on sushi and seafood, read books, and work on crossword puzzles from the Wall Street Journal. Sometimes we ventured to the zoo or the science museum, but mostly we hung out close to this home away from home. We’d watch the fog roll in and out, wait for the sun to set to see if we could catch a glimpse of the elusive green flash, and did a lot of people watching on the boardwalk.
Over the course of time, we came to recognize some of the locals, including one roller-blading man that everyone calls Slomo. Slomo skates down the boardwalk, his arms and legs moving in slow motion. As people call out to him, “Hey, Slomo!” he waves and smiles, always in slow motion. We’d usually see him on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day, depending on his route and ours. If one of us were alone when we saw him, we’d report our sighting to the rest of the group, who were inevitably disappointed to have missed out on seeing him. Somehow everyone who came into contact with him could sense that he was special somehow.
I’ve rarely thought about Slomo lately, although sometimes in class a student will mention that she’s been to the beach in San Diego. Another will ask, “Did you see Slomo?” The answer would always be, “yes,” and the class would become animated because everyone who’s seen him has a Slomo story. Even in our little mountain town, a long day’s drive from the beaches of southern California, we talk about Slomo.
This afternoon I watched this short documentary onSlomo. There’s been enough serendipity in my life that it shouldn’t surprise me that this film came to me via a friend who invited Dan and me to spend a vacation with her in San Diego before the annual trips with my in-laws. After watching the film and learning Slomo’s backstory, I could understand his magnetism on a completely different level. He is special – one who has followed his heart and lives a life that makes him happy, unfettered from desire and attachment. As he puts it, he’s one of the few who got away. He’s found the secret to his personal nirvana, that one thing - skating - that holds the key to his personal happiness and it is impossible not to notice that aura of positive energy that emanates from his being.
As each school year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on what I could have done better or differently in my teaching. More and more though, I find myself asking these questions about the rest of my life, too. This is perhaps a by-product of middle age and a perpetual search for fulfillment across multiple aspects of life. Do what you want to might ring as selfish indulgence, especially coming from a retired doctor, but not within the context that Slomo frames it. There are a lot of unhappy people in this world, (assholes, he calls them, and you and I do, too), leading lives of quiet desperation that flare out of control in ugly demonstrations from time to time. But what if, like Slomo, we wanted less, consumed less, became content with less? Think of all the burdens that would slough off, like envy and entitlement, that come from finding that the key to personal happiness is not in having, but in doing.