Using and Losing Time
A very scary event is on the horizon for me.
My 50th high school reunion. FIFTY!
I remember my parents going to my dad’s 50th. Oh my god, they were so OLD. It’s a good thing I’m so much younger now than they were then.
A reunion is a wonderful time to gather and … measure.
How old do we look? How many children? How many divorces?
How much have we accomplished?
Of course, we could and should ask ourselves this every day. But we don’t.
And by “accomplished,” I don’t necessarily mean how much money or career success or fame we’ve managed to stockpile in the 50 years we have been officially grownups.
All that is nice, of course. I’ve done okay on those counts. I’ve had a rewarding career, and lots of nice stuff in the closets of my nice house.
But more important than success is whether my life FEELS like a success.
In some ways, the answer is YES.
Most significantly, I have tried throughout my life to be a good human being. I try to think the best of people, to understand others, to be kind. I have succeeded in this. I like myself.
For personal fulfillment, the two novels I wrote satisfy me in ways I cannot even describe. I hold those books, read those pages, and think “I did this!” It nourishes my soul.
I never had children, and that is a huge sorrow – and maybe writing stories is a poor substitution – but I do believe there is some of the same feeling there. I have created something of worth. Something I am proud of. Something that will live on after me. No, my books won’t remember me or love me, but it is the best I can do. It will have to do.
And I love the watercolors I have produced. By putting paint to paper, I’ve been creating small joys for others. I may not be immortal, but maybe a few pets are memorialized for the humans who love them.
Back to the reunion.
I looked at our Class Reunion website yesterday. There is a memorial page on the website for those of us who have died. We had a large class – over 400 graduates. The remembrance page had more than 40 names. Ten percent of my classmates are dead.
This fact astonishes and saddens me. Fifty years since high school is a very long time. But we are not that old. None of us is seventy. In ten or twenty years we will be old. Right now we are only just past middle age. Only some of us never got there.
Our losses, our deaths, will only accelerate now.
We have only a limited time left to measure our accomplishments.
There’s nothing wrong with slowing down – with taking life a little easier as you age.
But how I want to squeeze in more accomplishments! I want to feel that I have contributed to the world. I want to feel important- not necessarily to the world, but to myself.
Sometimes I am overwhelmed with shame. The shame of lost time. The shame of future lost time that I know I will waste..
I dawdle too much. I daydream too much. I fritter.
I wonder what I might have accomplished in those hours of television. Crosswords. Twitter. Solitaire. Magazines. Shopping for more nice things for my nice closet. I wonder what I will not accomplish in those future hours of wasted time.
John Lennon (and actually many before him) said, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” And I agree. Not every moment of your life needs – nor should be – momentous. Watching a sunset has benefits that will not show up on your resume. Or playing with the dog. Or filling in that last square in your crossword puzzle, for that matter.
But the conflict between leisure and the need for accomplishment escalates.
I need to enjoy what short time I have left here. But I want to have something more on my list of what made my life worthwhile.
I will keep my crossword, I think, as perhaps it helps keep my brain sharp. But a considerable amount of Twitter time needs to be redirected. Twitter sometimes entertains, but more often makes me angry. I will try checking in a few times a day – with my oven timer set on 15 minutes.
I will keep playing with my dogs. In fact, I will play more with my dogs. My blood pressure will thank me for the shift from tweets to barks.
And although I love TV, I don’t think “Say Yes To The Dress” will be part of my legacy. A third novel however, just might.
Will I be more successful if I write three books instead of two? Probably not. But will I feel that I made some use of whatever time I have left? I probably will.
And I will search for more. Question more. Explore more. Learn more.
When I go to my class reunion in the Fall, I will smile and say hello to all these nice people who share a common incomplete mission: To be happy and fulfilled before we say hello to our completed companions.
______________________________________________________________________________PS. If you live anywhere near northwestern Connecticut, and you’d like to feel more connected and productive in your writing, I have convinced my friends, authors/editors John and Natalie Bates , to lead one of their terrific one-day intensive writing workshops. The date is September 14th. For more information, click on the banner at the top of the page, Writers Workshop Of Litchfield.