Saturday, July 17, 2010

Getting Things in Order I -- Redeeming the Time

I thought I'd share where I was in my "getting things in order" journey.  ... for lack of a better phrase.   This isn't really about time management, even though the title makes it sound that way.

Last Lent was very painful and very fruitful.   Interesting how that works.  It's probably what the pruned rose bush would experience if it had a rational soul.   I came to love the Psalms more than ever and I came out of it determined to make real changes in my life.   The following may sound morbid but it doesn't "feel" that way -- my theme was "what would I want to do to prepare if I knew I were only going to live one year?"   I think being past the mid-forty mark, plus not having any more babies, has made me more conscious of time and its limits.   I can't fool myself I have endless time to get myself straightened out.  

Also, my Dad died a year ago.  He had hereditary heart disease and both his father and his grandfather had died in their early 50's.  This made a big impression on my Dad's life and personality.   He started preparing for possible mortality when he was in his late 40's.  When he was in his early 50's he had a very mild heart attack which he probably would have missed entirely if he hadn't been a physician and so conscious of his family medical history.  The same year I graduated from college and got married, he had  triple bypass surgery.  He was only 52 at the time, but that was the age when his father had died.  He ended up having nearly another quarter century of life, and all that time he had the sense he was living a gift.   Even when he was in pain, as he often was in his last 3 or 4 years, he felt very fortunate and blessed that he had those extra years.   It was a "habit" or disposition that affected everything in his life. 

You see, the Church recommends that we remember we are dust, and will return to dust.  This would be morbid except that it's not.   It focuses the mind wonderfully, as they say.   It's realistic and in the Christian worldview, it's also hopeful because we are immortal souls.   It makes sense to think in terms of the big picture.   Teresa of Avila says that our earthly life is like a night spent in a bad inn.  What she is saying is not that life is horrible; it's not, unless you think that's the best we have in store.  She's saying that when we are journeying, unless we are total weaklings, we easily put up with discomfort and inconveniences that are brief and temporary, because we are focused on arriving.   

One experience I had with that was sleeping in the PICU with Aidan -- the health care staff were kind enough to let me pull a "sleep chair" (even worse than it sounds) into a cramped little corner beside his cot.    The lights were on all night of course.  Nurses came in and out every couple of hours to monitor his vitals and the doctors made their rounds sharp at seven.   But it was way more than tolerable.  I was with my child and I was full of hope that the interventions would make things better for him.   And they did, by the way, though it took a long time!

Back to my initial motivation for "getting my life in order" (that's how I thought of it, so maybe that is the proper title even though it doesn't have much zing).   My most orderly times of life have always been the times I knew I HAD to get things in order.   Like when I was pregnant with Paddy, having to go to the hospital for the day twice a week, with Aidan needing complicated medical care as well, and I also had a high schooler, two middle schoolers, and 2 grade schoolers.   I didn't know how long Paddy would have to be in the hospital after he was born (Aidan was in the hospital for seven months basically; Paddy ended up being in for 3 weeks, both at a hospital 250 miles away from our home) or who would be taking care of my older kids while I was with him.   So I had a protocol for everything -- housework, school, meals, Aidan's care -- so that whoever stepped in would find everything set up and running already.   I made the homeschool system as simple as possible so the kids could just print out their checklists and basically go.   And they had chore rotations, for household and dinner chores, and there was a menu rotation to streamline Kevin's grocery shopping. 

I didn't mean to go on so long about this part of it, but it was important.   It still is -- when I'm starting to feel unfocused and confused about my options, I play that mental game "What if I had only a year?"  "What if my life changes so that I need all systems running at Go?"    I wouldn't recommend it if it brings you down, but I had my father's example of making this meditation fruitful -- in those last 23 years he went from hospital administration back to general practice (which he always preferred as more important); he wrote several books, a couple of them definitive Alaskan medical histories; he brushed up his high school Latin and Greek; he helped found a school for Native youth in the Alaskan bush; he taught several adult Sunday school classes; he taught a humanities course for medical students at the University; he spent quality time with his family and nurtured his relationship with his wife by comfortable routines like daily walks and regular breakfasts in restaurants; he founded and ran a dermatology clinic at the hospital.  And he learned how to use a computer.   And he rescued several dogs that needed homes for various reasons.   And he said the Divine Office (I think the Anglican version, since he was not Catholic).    And he typed up and home-published his journals which he had kept since medical school; and he wrote a memoir of his early life illustrated from photos; and he played the classical guitar until his health forced him to give it up; and he researched his family genealogy and ordered it up so that it is easily available to the next generations.  He learned to tie complex and beautiful sailors' and Celtic knots.  And some of this was when he was also undergoing chemotherapy and dealing with a worst-case postherpetic neuralgia.   And he also managed to be a thoroughly decent and interesting human being who was much loved by the people around him.  He never seemed to be in a hurry; he always had time to talk; if you asked him to do something or he promised to send something, he never forgot to do it. 

So you see:   intimations of mortality don't have to paralyze you; quite the contrary.   I am not the achiever my dad was but that should not be an excuse.   If he had 10 talents and I only have 1, I still need to not bury the one.   God takes care of the increase, so that part of it is up to Him.

Oops, I meant to post-date this so it would show up tomorrow but then I accidentally hit "send" instead.  : ).  Since it shows up on readers so fast I'll just go ahead and leave it published even though that's two longish posts in one day.    My next post in this series will be about decluttering since that was where I started with my life-ordering efforts.

1 comment:

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!