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Making Time

The trick in writing a column that is occasionally and purportedly personal is to make sure that it isn’t.

The trick about self-revelation is that you don’t have to. And no one, except people who really do know you, will know the difference.

But then sometimes you’re in a rush, the deadline is looming and there isn’t time for anything else except the unvarnished truth.

The other night I went out to buy a rug for my living room in my never-ending attempt to make it seem like a large, light and spacious room when it is, in fact, tiny, dark and cramped. Or so it seems to me. I was in a hurry to get in and out of the mall and I wasn’t feeling optimistic about what kind of rugs I might find. Plus, I had a lot of work I still wanted to do that night. If this trip didn’t turn out to be a success I would have wasted the time it took to drive to Rotterdam Square Mall, not a favorite place of mine anyway, which is putting it lightly.

I gave myself 10 minutes. I speedwalked among the noisy fountains and the trans-fat-saturated smells from the foodstalls and the packs of roaming teenagers and the angry-looking young couples ringed-round by their scruffy children. Humanity was in my way.

I bought a rug, drove home, put it on the floor, then went into another room to sit at my computer and write something against a looming deadline. Not for the column. Another deadline.

Writer Joan Chittister, in her book Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, poses the question: “How shall we ever get the most out of life if life itself is our greatest obstacle to it?”

Everybody knows everybody is busy. Everybody is always complaining about multi-tasking and double-booking. People sleep with their cell phones on, check their e-mail on weekends and arrive wherever they are going—even yoga class—out of breath.

Like everybody else who kvetches about their busyness and then does nothing to change it, I know I am predisposed to over-function. I’ve always been that way, trying to pack two lives’ worth of experience into my one: two marriages, two kids, two graduate degrees, two—or more—careers. I could really use a second Social Security card.

But ironically, a large part of my job requires me to be available, interruptible, unflappable and unrushed. It is my job to create a climate of spaciousness in which people who need to can talk freely, without any apparent time constraints. I try to do this; I want to be effective at what I do.

However, more often than I would like to admit, I am thinking about the next throng of things I have to do, thinking about the time I am losing spending my time listening to someone who is not talking fast enough.

After all, I always do whatever I am doing as fast as I can. I write as fast as I can. I shower as fast as I can. I shop, read and drive as fast as I can. I choose magazines over books—I can read them faster. I watch the last half of football games—saves time. I used to write a journal but it took too long. So I walk around out of touch with my feelings most of the time. You can’t miss what you don’t feel.

But what will my gravestone say?

She finished her to-do list?

She emptied her inbox?

I don’t know if other people share the same bifurcated sense of reality that I do: trying to convey to those I work with that time is not of the essence, while meanwhile living constantly on the fly.

Of course, at root there is an unacceptable hubris in living like this—it is as if I think my presence in others’ lives justifies absenting my own. But the fact is, I am replaceable in other peoples’ lives. I am not replaceable in my life. If I am not there, at home in body and soul, then the house really is shuttered and dark. A shell.

“How shall we ever get the most out of life if life itself is our greatest obstacle to it?”

The only answer I have come up with so far is dinner. A friend of mine complained about the fact that I never want to do anything other than just go out for dinner. I resist movies, plays, sporting events and concerts. They are such a time commitment. And while it’s true you can leave, if you are with someone the odds are they won’t want to.

But dinner is different. It’s a pleasant captivity to sit with people you love at a table in a quiet restaurant. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to go any place other than maybe to the restroom. You don’t have to rush.

Dinners with people I care about, dinners for which I am not responsible, are among the most sacramental moments in my life. They accomplish nothing—the best kind of nourishment for the soul.

I know I move too fast. And restaurant dinners aren’t any kind of longterm answer, though they are palliative. And they will have to do until I find a way to feel the cramped walls of my living room expand around me and in that light and spacious stillness, discover my home.

—Jo Page

jopage@graceniska.org


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