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A while ago a good friend and I were talking about time management and restlessness. I have an issue with there never being enough time, and with an inability to dedicate the little time I have to one single thing. I get distracted, start wondering if this is really the best way to spend the 1 hour gleaned between work and picking up the kids, and in the end get nothing done and feel a failure. Or even – I DO get things done but don’t enjoy the process. Exasperated, I shared all of this with him. He patiently listened, smiled, and nodded, “I totally understand. I used to be the same way…”

Being 20 years his junior, I get that a lot.

I told him that I want to live life fully, to live each day as if it were my last. He responded, “I’ve come to realize that you have to live life as if you’re going to live forever.” I raised an eyebrow. He continued, “You have to be generous with your time. Do you want an hour of my life to complain about your boss? Sure – here you go. Would you like 30 minutes to keep me on hold – go right ahead. Are you all going to keep me stuck in traffic for two hours? By all means – I’m not in a rush, I have all the time in the world…”

Wise man, he is. This idea, at first counter-intuitive and absurd, has the potential to be life-altering. Think about it: in the end we’re all going to be dead. At that point it’s not really going to matter whether you rushed around like a headless chicken your whole life, accomplishing, checking things off your lists, not being present but being transient. It only makes the difference now. And now wouldn’t you rather live calmly, peacefully, being present in the moment and not just rushing through it to get to the next?

There is something deeply comforting in spending time with this friend. On a psychological level, it is painful, traumatic when the person you are trying to interact with is constantly being distracted. You feel as if you are not important. You notice they are already thinking about the next lunch date, planning their evening, or fretting about work instead of just being there with you. When you perceive this, you are not likely to open up. You feel trapped in a short time-slot and don’t say much beyond the platitudes and stock phrases that the other person reacts to in the usual, accepted way. With this friend it’s different. It’s as if he is there to stay – you really feel like he has no place to go, like he could just chat with you for many hours. And it is because he has made the decision to live each day as if he will live forever.

I have tried to implement this principle in my interactions with the kids, because I have noticed that they’re often at a high level of anxiety, especially at home. Since I am (usually) not able to give them my full attention for very long (I get distracted), they must feel that they don’t get the attention at all. As a result, they are always demanding, begging, bartering, or stealing it. If you think that yearned-for attention can be abruptly removed from you at any moment, you act out: you’re loud, obnoxious, annoying. You tell stupid jokes or don’t stop to listen for fear of losing your audience. The other extreme is just as dangerous: you retreat within yourself and don’t make contact, because making it and then losing it hurts more. So I am trying with my kids to give them time.

It is extremely difficult, but very important. As I do, I feel the changes in me, and in them. As for what I could have been doing instead – I try not to panic. Because I do have almost all the time in the world. At least I have as much as the world will give.

Not to sound pretentious, but I get this a lot: “How do you have the time to do all of these things??” Often I am tempted to reply with a half-snide “I make time. What do you do all day?”

Thing is, if you think about time, you may realize that it is the great common denominator. Everything can be broken down to time. It’s also the universal currency – most of the decisions we make affect our expenditure of time or arise from it. What some of us may not recognize, often enough, is that time is a precious, nonrenewable resource. It is limited, for each person, and it does run out. Try as you may, you cannot create, recycle, or plant more of it. I think if we understood this, we would live differently.

Maybe I am being too optimistic though.

Two thoughts on time. One is that your age should be determined not by how much you’ve lived, but by how much you still have left. Imagine! A 25-year old criminal on death row would be older than the 60-year old recreational diver. This is the flip side of the traditional approach to age. Think about it: when somebody is young, it means that they’re inexperienced, foolish, maybe, reckless..but it also means that they still have much ahead of them (as in “I’m still young…I have time…”). The reverse is true of our typical perception of being old: there is much behind you, and not much left ahead. “Oh…I’m too old now to (fill in the blank: get married? Pick up para-sailing? Learn how to use a computer?)”. But if you saw your age as what lies ahead instead of what lies behind, you would be forced to evaluate the choices you make more carefully, because actually, you don’t know how long you have left.

Let's do it!

The old saying goes, “Why do something today if you can put it off till tomorrow?”. I say, “Do it today, because there may not be a tomorrow for you (or me)”.

The other thought is this: I have always adhered vehemently to the credo “Life is short” (implicit: live it to the fullest), because at one point I realized that life will be short for me. That is, it will be too short to do and try and learn and taste and experience everything that I would like to do and try and learn…. Like, I was driving home from church yesterday thinking it would be great to pick up kayaking, especially because in the area where we live there are many waterways perfect for this water sport. And then I got to thinking about wall climbing and how I should join an outdoors climbing group to go on climbing trips with them, and then I remembered that I wanted to get more into composing, now that we have a keyboard at home…and the list goes on.

Honestly, I am stumped when others do less. I mean, what else is there to do except…stuff? That’s what living is. Doing stuff.

A few examples of time as the common denominator: I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and literature lately about living green, and car-free, and being independent, off the grid, having your own homestead, picking your seasonally-grown veggies for the winter months, etc., and I got to thinking. On the one hand, I salute the movement fully because it is based on another credo of mine: living deliberately; thinking about how you treat the land, and your bodies, and the people and nature around you. On the other hand, like any movement, it can consume you.

To market, to market...

Say you don’t want to leave a carbon footprint because you love nature and want your kids to love it and learn to value it. So you start recycling, saving all of your plastics and reusing glassware, getting rid of your car, using candles and solar power instead of electricity, and drying your clothes on cloth lines. You realize that many of the chemicals in your house are or can be harmful to you or the environment. You start mixing your own natural cleaners, soaps, makeup, detergents. Before you know it, all of your time is spent on doing this stuff, and none on going outside, actually being in nature, spending time with family and friends.

Or you want to be independent, food and electricity-wise. So you start a garden, dig a well, set up solar panels and wind turbines. You preserve your fruits and vegetables, you milk your cow, make your own yogurt, cheese, butter, cream. You grow your own organic fiber, weave or knit from it your own clothes. Yes, eventually you become fully independent, but the caveat is that while you’re independent from other people providing you with all of the necessities of life, you’re fully dependent on your own efforts to sustain you. You must toil day and night, like the people of yore, like all of civilization did for millenia before the industrial revolution radically altered the way humanity produced goods…And again, you have no time for the things that matter (to you).

Basically, these more radical expressions are only worth it if the process in and of itself is actually the way you’d prefer to spend your time. Or you can spend your time working to earn money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables any time of the year, or to pay for a car so you can go places and see the world.

The same can be said of child-rearing activities. For instance, you can work long hours, earn money to get your kid signed up for fancy-pancy classes, Montessori school, art, dance, football, fencing…or you can work part time and teach these things yourself (and learn them in the process too!). Bottom line again is: where do you want to spend your time? Doing what?

I got a George Washington Carver award in high school, and on it there’s a quote by him: “There’s no short cut to achievement”. This is true too. If you look at someone who is a tremendous painter or an exceptional mathematician, know that they put their time in, and got results. Others put that same time in to bar hopping, partying, smoking weed or just watching TV all day. The time is gone, either way, the return on it, though, varies greatly.

So the moral of the story is: go ye forth, and seize the day! Seriously. Do it.

Wondering why it’s prevalent in our society. Look – I am sick and my boss literally ORDERED me to stay home, and I am feeling guilty that I took the kids to their preschool. I feel guilty when I’m online and not working, guilty when I am working and not cleaning, guilty when I am cleaning and not spending time with the kids, guilty when I am spending time with the kids and secretly wishing they were asleep.

And then sad when they do fall asleep.

Freely you have received, freely you should give. Why is this so difficult to grasp? Notice, it’s harder to receive than to give. I think that if I or anyone else has issues with feeling guilty about everything they do or do not do, there is something about forgiveness and salvation they are not understanding.

Granted, having gone through every welfare program out there (I admit), it has become easier to receive. At first there was shame that I was there, the word “social worker” somehow never managed to leave my mouth without a cough…then it was annoying, then just business as usual. But always humbling. I have learned to receive surprise gifts from friends, unexpected road tolls paid by kind strangers, lunch covered by coworkers when my credit card was not working…Praise God, through all of these kindnesses and more (unexpected bonus that bought us food, a long-lost check coming in right when the power was about to be turned off, a huge debt – forgiven) He gave freely. And we received.

Then why does that feeling that you should be doing something else, something bigger, better, kinder…why does it persist?

And where does it come from?

This feeling strives to render the gift of freedom useless. But having understood, at least somewhat, now I chose to accept it, again. Now I am free. I should just live accordingly.

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