Back in my Sunday School days, my teacher once asked the class to identify our biggest vices. She provided us with a neat list to choose from that included the usual culprits–greed, envy, gluttony, pride, sloth–but also one I had yet to encounter: instant gratification. My ten-year-old self dismissed the mainstream vices partly because they did not seem accurate and partly because the budding hipster in me wanted to avoid conformity. Instead, I picked the two big and semi-mysterious words that meant nothing to me besides their uniqueness.
When I asked my mother to explain this term to me later that day, I soon learned that it described me all too well. Instant gratification, in its simplest terms, meant that if I wanted something, I intended to have it at that moment. When we went to Costco that same day, the moment my eyes saw the advertised $1.35 smoothies, it became absolutely essential that I hopped into line and acquired that liquid sugar long before my mother even made it to the check-out line.
I continued to identify my need for instant gratification in other realms, and almost all of them involved either spending money or experiencing something awesome. Since I am now almost twice as old and immeasurably wiser, this whole instant gratification business has evolved into a much gentler and respectable virtue: spontaneity. When adventure calls, I must answer immediately lest any opportunity go unexplored.
While visiting a friend in Berkeley recently (via a 16-hour train ride booked five days in advance), she said, “The best plans are those unlaid.” I took this to heart when I woke up that Saturday still groggy from the night before and fumbled my way through public transportation until I reached San Francisco. Once there, I feigned energy with a chai tea latte and googled “vegan food San Francisco.” Within minutes, I learned about and arrived at an annual street food fair in the Mission district. There, I fell in love with San Francisco culture and consumed the best avocado fries and vegan chik’n and waffle out there.
The no plans theme continued for the rest of the trip and resulted in a poem about my future choices, a hike up the Berkeley hills to listen to Rebelution live, and city walking tours complete with street opera singers and hidden memorial fountains. Since we planned exactly none of this, each moment became an opportunity and each opportunity an adventure. I hopped on the 16-hour train ride back feeling full from the bay area experience (and insanely good thai food) even though I did not see any tourist attractions.
Two weeks later, another friend asked me on a Sunday evening if I wanted to hike the next day. Since in Eugene a hike typically means a 40-minute jaunt up either Spencer’s Butte or Mt. Pisgah, I agreed. When he picked me up the next day and we drove over two hours to the trailhead, I suspected that this might be a hike that required more footwear than my usual Birkenstocks. We set off with no plans other than to follow the trail and soon emerged into an opening that displayed Clear Lake, named after its sparkling turquoise waters. The trail led around the entire perimeter of the lake, but when we reached the halfway mark we instead detoured onto Waterfall Trail because the name promised something spectacular and our theme for the day was improvisation.
Several miles later, we paralleled the McKenzie River and the rushing water began to intensify. At last, we reached a look-out point that rested just beside the top of a cascading waterfall at least 100 feet tall. We scurried to the bottom and trekked out to a point so close to the waterfall’s base that within one minute we were drenched from the spray. Now 5.5 miles from the car, my little afternoon hike had officially evolved into an all-day affair, but the result was breathtaking.
Once again, spontaneity championed the day, and I exited the trail giddy at what the world around me could offer. I may still possess that need for instant gratification, but when that so-called vice leads me to such dazzling adventures, I do not anticipate any attempts to expel it from my character.
Besides, I no longer prescribe to a philosophy where vices and virtues can classify a person. I believe in complexity and the value of time, so I plan to spend mine capturing moments that, above all else, make me feel alive.