[EDITORIAL NOTE: Coming up is the final weekend (at last!) before the presidential election next Tuesday. Perhaps, in anticipation, you have a final blog post with your thoughts about all that has transpired in this campaign. If so, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]
Until not so long ago, there was an urgency to many parts of my life. As is common to many young people, NOW! was the optimal timing for seeing a newly-released movie, finishing a book, buying the latest cool fashion item and adding another new city, state or country to my travel repertoire.
Even housecleaning had a deadline. I operated on the assumption - although I didn’t think of it in such stark terms - that I might not be here tomorrow, so I had better meet my obligations and grab my pleasures while I could.
Sometimes, I imposed time limits even on tedious chores. When, in my twenties, a relative of my godfather committed suicide, I was surprised to find a half-finished copy of Clea on the woman’s bedside table. The Alexandria Quartet had been such a slog for me to read, I couldn’t imagine how anyone who got through all of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and half of Clea wouldn’t at least finish the final few pages before offing herself. (On the other hand, to my mind, it’s conceivable the Quartet led her to that final act.)
Although there was no list to tick off, no specific goals to my forward urgency, I did have a sense that I was racking up points each time I finished a self-imposed “NOW! assignment.” Something had been accomplished. I was even in the game, if not ahead, but if I didn’t keep moving I might fall behind.
Perhaps the pressure was genetic. Late in her life, my Great Aunt Edith told me that it wasn’t until she was 70 that she understood if she had something more interesting to do, housecleaning could be postponed because certainly the dirt would wait for her.
It is a lesson that didn’t take me quite as long to learn as Aunt Edith. In the past few years, that long-familiar urgency has (mostly) evaporated and it is astonishing how long I can now tolerate dust in the corners. These days, I’m happy to wait for a new movie until it hits the cable channels. I no longer need to own the latest style in clothing and in fact, I don’t even know what’s fashionable anymore. Nor do I care.
It feels good to have let go of the need to be au courant and speed through each week, but none of it makes sense to me. Why, I have wondered, just when my time left on Earth gets shorter by the day, do I feel I have plenty of time to finish that book, see that town in northern Maine someone recommended and get back to Paris or New York City for a visit?
Now, I may have found an explanation for this paradox. Perhaps my rush to be done with one pursuit and get on to the next was to pile up experience, which is one of the jobs of the young. Sheltered by our parents through our teen years, we’re eager to get out and see the world on our own terms, to experience all the things that were forbidden in childhood and to discover our personal sensibilities.
But after a few decades of that, it could be a matter of “been there, done that,” and of knowing how fleeting new things are, rarely more than passing cultural fancies that may collectively change the zeitgeist over time but are individually unimportant.
I spent about six decades plagued by time - not enough of it. Although I’m not convinced yet that my recent explanation for the paradox of expanded time in old age holds water, it’s a less stressful way to live. Sometimes, nowadays, I can even let my mind wander where it will without reminding myself there is something I ought to be doing.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson tells a story of modern technology everyone can relate to these days titled, The Beep.]