Recently, I’ve been thinking about mortality. David’s grandmother is standing on the doorway of heaven and she has started talking to dead people. Her arms are out stretched welcoming the comfort that only death can provide. Everyday I see Harper as she runs into life with her heart open and spirit soaring. My parents have entered retirement and are facing new challenges with humor. My young neighbor with two sweet baby boys is battling life-threatening cancer, and my students sit on the precipice of adulthood.
And here I am – 44 – and with the unique ability to see all stages of life everyday and from one vantage point. It is both inspiring and frightening. Middle age makes you acutely aware of how fast time flies and how little time each of us has on this earth. This self reflection has made me ask many questions but the one most prominent seems to be, “How am I spending that time?”
When we are young it is a question that is supposed to inspire us to chase our dreams but as you get older it becomes a more practical question. Every day I wake up and make a choice regarding how I’m spending that next 12 hour period. Will I regret it later in life? Will I regret not taking better care of my body? Will I regret not taking the time to be with my friends? Will I regret not traveling more? Will I regret not pursing some of my dreams and aspirations? I don’t have magic answers. I wish I did. Illness and old age overtakes us whether we are triathlon runners or life-time partiers. But it is the WHAT of our lives that seems to make the difference. What did we do with our time.
1.) NOTHING is more important than friends and family
The time I cherish most is the time I spend with my children and my family. The lazy Saturdays, the funny conversations in the car, the snuggles in bed, the comfortable silence on the back porch, the conversation filled dinners. I don’t cherish the time I spend rushing my kids to lessons or classes or activities. I don’t cherish the time I spend fulfilling obligations. Obligations are for the young and I don’t choose to fill my calendar with such nonsense.
2.) Saying “No” is hard
A reoccurring New Years resolution for me is to start saying “no” more often. I pretty much fail every year but I keep trying. It is not out of obligation that I say “yes” but out of a desire to want to do EVERYTHING. Yes, of course I want to sign up for cooking classes. Yes, I want my kids in the gifted engineering program. Yes, I want to organize field trips. Yes, I want to help the homeless at church. Yes, I will teach more classes. It all sounds wonderful and exciting and FUN and I don’t want to miss ANYTHING. But in missing nothing I neglect the most important, which brings me back to point #1 – nothing is really more important than those quiet Saturdays and time spent loving each other.
3.) Balance health but don’t make it your idol
Our journey has been set for us and no matter how much exercise or gluten-free eating we do is going to change that. However, don’t be purposefully neglectful because you might need some of that old body later on. I try to eat a balanced diet, but I’m definitely not opposed to the Oreo/Pop-tart/doughnut kind of day. I walk the dog everyday but I doubt I will ever commit myself to a spinning class or hours at the gym. Conversely though, if that is what brings you joy then DO IT. Walking the dog, during the early quiet hours of the morning when I can hear the birds chirping – that brings me joy.
4.) Prioritize your dreams
When I was in 5th grade I told my teacher that I wanted to grow up and write books for a living. If I live to be 95 (which considering my genetic legacies and assuming no unforeseen circumstances) I am almost halfway through my life, which means I’m at the peak of my life mountain. Realistically I probably only have another 40 years left to do all the things I want to do and trust me, that list is LONG. But, I have a list and that is an important first step. I might not write that novel I’ve always said I would but I will see the Globe theater, because I’ve prioritized it. I will suck every moment out of watching my kids grow up because I’ve prioritized that experience. I will take mother/daughter trips, and see my kids graduate college, and I will spend evenings with my husband sitting on the porch. I will cook with my sister and laugh with my parents and fill my days with love. Which brings me to my last point…..
5.) It’s all about the people
This isn’t earth-shattering or even novel. We all know this but how often do we lose track of it? How often do we lose track of what is really important? And I guess that is why it has been on my mind. I’ve already lost people. I’ve already attended funerals with people shaking their heads and saying the “should haves” and “could haves” of regret.
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I’m terrified that I will lose track of those important things. I fear that I will get so caught up in checking off the “to-do’s” of societal obligation that I will forget to spend time doing the really important things. And perhaps this is just my long-winded way of justifying not cleaning my house.