This I Believe #2: Nights Left Open to Chance

Installment #2 of my personal This I Believe series.

This I Believe: Nights Left Open to Chance

When I was a senior in college, my housemate stuck a calendar quote on my door one evening while I was busy studying. It was from Mignon McLaughlin: "For the happiest life, days should be rigorously planned, nights left open to chance."

My 21-year-old brain interpreted this as "make sure your studying gets done in daylight so you can hang out with friends after dinner." But now, four years later, seen through the lens of young adulthood, its meaning has evolved from a 1-minute essay on time management to a lesson about living in the moment.

Indeed, no court of law could convict me of being too spontaneous. I hold my To-Do list holy. I like to plan out how I spend time and money. And I'm usually not eager to toss aside carefully crafted schedules.

I've discovered, however, that living on my own has quietly, subtly, stealthily forced more flexibility upon me. Being in charge of me and only me reinforces how quickly time passes. I see that productivity, though necessary, doesn't always bring me the right kind of happiness. So I know it's up to me now to grab hold of those chance opportunities that lead to freer, more fluid life experiences.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was the end of a satisfying Christmas holiday, and I was driving home with my housemate Jacob -- a routine and pre-planned affair. We were singing along to the radio, telling stories, sharing silences, all around having a grand time.

I didn't want it to end. So as a desperate half-joke, I suggested we stop along the way and catch a movie, just to keep our vacation going.

To my surprise, Jacob agreed, even though it was a work night for him. Within minutes the usual route was abandoned. We found ourselves Googling directions from his phone; making U-turns all over Columbia, Md.; eating macaroni-and-cheese and chicken pot pies at Boston Market; and ending up at a movie theater to see Slumdog Millionaire.

Maybe this doesn't sound terribly exciting to you. After all, it's not like we jetted off to Paris or discovered a wild party in an old warehouse or did any other event often cited as "spontaneous." But it was OUR adventure, our moment to turn the ordinary upside down even a little bit, our chance to forget responsibility and live out our free will with nothing but a healthy sense of the ridiculous urging us on.

So we didn't worry about wasting time, because we weren't. Quite the opposite: we were squeezing every last ounce of juice from it in a fit of idealogical thrift.

The result? I learned my way around a Maryland shopping center. I ate Velveeta for the first time in years. And I realized anew how much I love -- really, truly love -- my resident partner-in-crime.

It was a night -- a heart -- a life left open to chance ... all of which I intend to pursue more rigorously. I hope Mignon is proud.