It was February of 1990. I’d just walked into my office after a long drive from a meeting in Connecticut. Picked up the phone to check voice mail. There were three messages from Jim’s office manager, Karen: “Please call me as soon as possible.” “Please call as soon as possible.” “Call me immediately!” This was years ago, before everyone carried cell phones and was instantly reachable.
With a flutter in my stomach, I prepared to return her calls. Just then the phone rang.
"Are you sitting down?” Jim said. It crossed my mind that this was a hackneyed thing to say. I started to make a sarcastic crack but he interrupted me.
“Seriously, sit down. Our house is on fire.”
The very first thing that came out of my mouth was, “I don’t have time for this.”
This isn’t a story about the odyssey of purchasing our dream home…the home that made us feel like grown ups, with a flagstone patio perfect for grown up cocktail parties, and plate glass windows that overlooked the Connecticut Valley providing a view that gave us endless delight watching the sunrise and the storms come down the river…and it’s not about how we carefully catalogued every smoky and charred item in the house so we could submit an accurate insurance claim…or how I truly came to appreciate Jim’s drive and talent as he ran an oil business and supervised the rebuilding of our home (doing much of the work himself)…
…this is a story of a lifelong struggle with time, especially time for the things that give me joy and satisfaction, particularly in the creative domain.
Last week, I was in Florida attending a meeting and visiting friends. I’d just started a writing course that I was really looking forward to. After 21/2 days of meetings, I was eager to complete my assignment and I settled in to work. Instead of the satisfaction I’d anticipated, I felt like a cranky baby. My mind hit a wall, I was restless and tired at the same time, and I began to question whether I’d be able to continue with the course. That afternoon was the time I’d planned to complete the assignment before another one landed in my inbox the next morning.
My friend Jane said, “I’m doing an intervention. I’m taking you to the preserve to watch the birds settle in for the night. You can decide about the course tomorrow morning.”
When we got home from watching the birds swoop into their resting places and the sun set over the water, I was in a completely different frame of mind. Thanks to Jane’s skillful interventions, I completed the assignment the next morning just minutes before the next one arrived.
I’m working hard to replace “I don’t have time for this” with “I have time for anything that deeply matters to me.” Coincidentally, the 25th anniversary of our house fire was this week. Sometimes it takes forever for a wakeup call to take hold.