What a small calendar taught me about living in the present
The slim volumes were stacked high off to the side of the table. They caught my eye as I rushed through the hall, a major Colorado snow storm about to cut short the meetings industry show. Along with the typical swag of bespoke pens and small collectibles, there was something about the neatness of the item that caught my attention.
I love stuff that helps me organize my scattered noggin. Pieces of me are everywhere these days, including on the asphalt north of Twin Falls, Idaho, but that's another story.
I grabbed two volumes, tossed them into my conference bag and rushed to the parking garage. I barely made it from Denver to my Lakewood home that March day before snow obliterated the roads completely.
That was almost two years ago. I moved to Eugene, where such storms are highly unlikely. Well, okay, for now they aren’t, just as fires west of the Cascades aren’t supposed to happen, then they wiped out thousands of homes and millions of trees.
What is inevitable is time. That, along with dumb politicians, taxes and the insults that come with our shifting bodies, you and I can take to the bank. Time is a will o' the wisp, and if we aren't careful, will rob us of life before we have fully lived it. That's this article.
I finally opened some of the boxes that have sat in my new office since August. Out came that slim volume. This time, I could register the gold-embossed printing on the cover:
Twenty Year Planner
Huh. Hadda let that sink in for a moment.
The calendar lines you out to 2038, which, if you’re twenty, or even forty, may not seem like a big deal. Unless you suffer from gerascophobia, which is a different kettle of fish.
I was 66 when I first picked that calendar up. In a few months, I will have already used up two years of the alloted time in that tiny volume.
By the end of it I will be 86.
Eighty-six. Holy cow. In just eighteen years. That kind of time goes by in a heartbeat. I've already lived nearly 68. Went by like lightning. Didn’t feel that way at the time. But then, we don’t really notice until we start heading for a deadline. Like, being dead.
You and I, and my hand is up here, squander time as though there’s an unlimited supply of it.
The other day I penned a tongue-in-cheek story, well sort of, about middle age. I have no clue when mine happened. Last I knew I was thirty. Now I am barely two years from seventy.
If you're over forty, bet you can relate.
Like many, I am a dedicated LOTR fan ( Lord of the Rings, for the uninitiated). Gandalf spouts some of my favorite sayings. Among them, he says to the young Frodo…
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Yet even as we are under quarantine, even as we are forced to face our inevitable mortality, we so often choose to divert our attention from life and into anything else but. Anything else other than to learn to be in the moment, moments which slow down for none of us.
I had to cancel a much-anticipated return to Mongolia last August. As it was, I still took some massive chances, selling and moving to a new state, surrounded on Christmas afternoon with soft rain, rising fog and the patter of drops on my roof. Because if I wanted that dream to come true I had to do it. Just DO it. Take the chance, sell the house, get on the road.
That road has been bumpy for all of us this year.
For my part. I flipped my car at speed on that road, got injured a buncha times, was in and out of the gym and the hospital. Gyms closed. The house came together just enough to provide a lovely place to briefly acknowledge Christmas. By noon that day, I’d already wrapped the few decorations for next year. I am not in the mood to reminisce. I AM in the mood to focus on right here, right now. I am planning a shoulder surgery early next year, because we’re still on lockdown. What better time to do a tune up than when we’re in the garage?
Some time ago I read a comment by someone who said that life wasn’t a dress rehearsal. While I can understand that people have trepidation about new things, strange things, all I know is this, again from Gandalf:
“The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there.”
How you live your life out loud is very different from my choices, as it should be. I prefer to take raw chances, and if injured, that’s part of the price I pay to do what I love. While I am temporarily sidelined because of the pandemic, that doesn’t prevent a great many things: building out a basement gym, getting back into training and full shape for the next adventure, doing what it takes to prepare for a day when you and I can do what we can’t right now. For me, that’s adventure travel.
For you, who knows? It’s for you to decide.
But here’s the question:
If you got a twenty-year planner, and it was put away until twenty years later, would you be able to point to any one particular Big Hairy Achievement Goal that you completed? Would you be happy that you finally gave yourself that education, that trip, that date with the man/woman you like so much? Or will you dither away that precious time watching Game of Thrones, effectively watching other people live a novel while yours gets lived out on the couch?
I just set up my elliptical so that if I want to watch a series, I’ll be exercising. My seventy needs to be supercharged, and it won't get that way if I sit around and watch other folks live large.
How quickly so many of us say “I’m too old for this (stuff),” when the years when we were young(er), we didn’t take those chances then either?
The older I get, the more I push. The more I push, the more I can do. The more I can do the more I live. I am two years into that planner. I don't get a do-over. The only way that happens is if you're Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. Or, Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
My world is “out there.” I don’t know how soon I can get back out in those parts I am so eager to see, but when it’s time, I’ll be ready. Which is why when that travel company who plans the trips to Mongolia wrote me this past week, I wrote back: SIGN ME UP NOW. Will I go? I dunno.
But I sure will be ready.
What will do you do with the time you are given?