She came in again yesterday. Once she would have marched into the store, this time she limped painfully and slowly. The hair that she used to so often fuss about is gone, replaced with a small akubra adorned with a floral scarf.
I often find myself sighing when I see my chatty and fussy regular customers heading in, as I cast a glance at the pile of paperwork and orders waiting to be dealt with. I am polite, friendly even, and always helpful; I like to do my job well. But I am normally so eager to return to my errands so that I can gain the satisfaction of simply checking them off my to-do list; so I don’t normally prolong any irrelevant conversations.
But here she was again, dramatically altered by cancer in just a few weeks, and suddenly the paperwork wasn’t so urgent and her complaints not at all irritating. It wasn’t pity that I felt; it was appreciation, for this person, just as she is, and for the fragility of life.
Why is it that we need an acute awareness of our own mortality to wake us up to what is really important? Why do I so quickly forget the same lesson over and over?
This year, I have known three young people pass away tragically. In each case, it wasn’t their achievements I thought of when I remembered their lives, how academically qualified they were or how big their houses were or how efficiently they did their paperwork; instead, all I thought of was how they influenced others lives.
I have always carried a sense of urgency about life with me; however, for me that urgency has translated into ambition and drive. So I now drag behind me a trail of top university marks (2 subjects ahead too!) and checked off to-do lists and savings in the bank and a sense of failure at not being more successful in life (you know, successful as in I should be writing my fourth book while running a multi-billion dollar corporation that I founded that uses its powers to help bring transformation to injustices within the world while leading an active social life, pursuing my interests in music and circus arts by gigging and fire twirling each weekend and then clown doctoring at the children’s hospital at least twice a week followed by. totally realistic).
But given my current energy restrictions (that a part of me still stubbornly refuses to acknowledge), this single-minded drive has also cost me many friendships, evenings spent laughing rather than staring at a computer screen for hours. It’s led to my poor family having to deal with me tired, cranky and antisocial on a regular basis, and it has worsened my health.
Fair trade off? I think not.
Nothing wrong with working hard…I so appreciate the opportunities we have here. But maybe it’s time to finally take the advice that everyone keeps offering, and cut back on work/study (whoa! scary.) and try to enjoy the journey a little more…so that hopefully I can help others enjoy theirs, too, rather than spending the whole time thinking of my stupid to do list until I arrive at the end of my journey with all my paperwork properly filed and my bucketlist unexperienced and no friends in sight.
So forgive me if I take Billy Joel’s advice some time soon and:
“Slow down, you crazy child.
Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.
It’s all right you can afford to lose a day or two…”
And to the friends that I have neglected due to my overly zealous commitment to study and work, forgive me. Lets have coffee.
“It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.” – Dag Hammarskjold
Read about how Henri Nouwen left his job at Harvard to care for Adam, a severely disabled man
Or Mindfulness – the art of conscious living.
Or how a stranger gave me flowers in Guate just when I needed them
Or ask me about the most incredible, resilient girls I once lived with in Guatemala…