I had this funny moment yesterday when I was packing. I looked at the pile of clothes, which, by the way I never pack so well or am so organized that I pile the clothes first and then put them in the duffle. But I was really hellbent on getting it right, so I got all the stuff together and then piled it up and when I looked at it I kind of giggled because it was all either white or something with stripes. That’s what a pile of summer clothes looks like, I thought. And then I thought of what my clever comment about the clothes would be if I was still using social media.
I mean, to be fair, technically by writing here I am using social media, so it’s not like I’m some perfect, quiet little off-the-grid maiden, milking the cows and then reading a book and then chopping wood to cook dinner.
Anyway. Instead of taking a photo with my iPhone and posting it to Instagram and then putting the clothes in the black Patagonia duffle (read, gear snob), I eliminated the first look at what I’m doing all of you step, threw everything plus some shoes plus the green Patagonia Dopp kit (read, ridiculous) into the bag then went on my way. With kid. Can’t forget that part; everything is better when Coco is in the story.
The moment passed. And too did all of the moments throughout the day when I would have been checking back to see if anyone liked my photo and my very clever words about my stripy summery clothes.
You may be able to surmise from this little piece that I am still coming down from the effects of a good ten, I’m guessing, solid years of Facebook and Instagram use. I don’t remember when I first signed on to Facebook—it’s been around for fifteen years and I, curious about everything, was an early user. Like any recovery period, things can get dicey from time to time. The whiff of former habits remains. It’s never easy to stop doing something that adds a zing (or fifty) of adrenaline to one’s daily diet. Those little upward pointing thumbs, tiny hearts, the numbers going up throughout the day … yes, I am alive, yes, people notice my life, yes … those are feel-good moments and the folks who are working diligently to keep you engaged with those platforms know this—they work in the same building as Big Pharma.
Let me be clear about something. Your life, your days, your hours, are yours alone to spend as you wish. I’m not here writing about social media to chastise anyone for the choices they make in regards to how to use their time; what I do here is tell little stories about my days in the hopes that someone may go … hmm.
That’s all. Just hmm.
I have evolved, at the tender age of 54, into a work life in which people move slowly. Some because they are in a wheelchair, some because they are very alone, some because they are in the process of dying. Days are long and quiet for many of the people I get to spend time with. The worlds in which my people reside are often very small — a room with a bed. Many of the people I am with don’t have the freedom to go where they want when they want, to do as they please. Being with them slows my life down, a lot. One simply cannot be in a hurry when one is talking with a person who is coping with a terminal diagnosis or dealing with the irrefutable reality of our fleshy existence—that limbs stop working and disease comes home to roost.
So these people, they are my teachers, their one-bed rooms my classroom. In this School of Life I am learning to use the time I have consciously.
By consciously I mean thoughtfully. By thoughtfully I mean intentionally. By intentionally what I hope I mean is well.
Obviously I can’t spend every minute of every day well. I mean, I could, but even that gets exhausting after a while. What I can do is work harder to own and accept the truth that I choose how to use my time, my time is limited, and so it’s probably a good idea for me to use what I have in meaningful ways.
In meaningful ways means something different to everyone. For me it means being with people I love, looking at their eyes, talking with them, touching them. It means eating yummy food with them. I love food! It means helping people who need help. Sometimes that’s someone I love, like my parents; sometimes that’s someone I’ve just met, like the young woman who was hitchhiking to Manchester the other day, a Long Trail hiker in need of a lift. I learned that she is a bookbinder and that bookbinders have competitions (!) and that she has taken a month away from her bookbinding life to hike alone and that she grew up in Maine. I saw her bright blue eyes and heard the New England lilt of her voice. I saw her courage and was inspired by it. Her life touched mine for the 20 minutes she was in my car with me.
I have often wondered what our lives would be like if we were born with an expiration date on the bottom of our foot. Would we turn away from people and things that suck the life and time from us? With a known stretch of time here on planet Earth would we accomplish more? Take more risks? It often feels like we lull around in this haze of … I have forever, I’ll do that tomorrow … until the diagnosis comes, until someone we love dearly dies, until the sideswipe of the car accident. Or maybe we make it all the way to our 60s or 70s where we begin to really taste our mortality. We get that metal taste in our mouth; we are going to more memorial services than weddings; we understand that our best days may be behind us and not out front, beyond that haze of uncertainty, of fear, of laziness that has clouded our thoughts and slowed our movements for much of our lives.
I don’t have any answers to the conundrum of immortality, the vexing truth that we all die, the question of how to live while we are here. But I do think that life is more about giving up than taking on; I think I’ve lived long enough now and traveled enough dark tunnels of regret and sorrow and loss to know that it’s most often in the letting go of the unnecessary noise and inhibiting habits and relationships of our lives when the soil beneath our feet becomes rich and our soul has room to really grow.
There are almost eight billion of us on this planet today; my story is only one. Everyone’s heart hears a different song; everyone’s journey is novel and important in some way. I can tell you what I have learned and what I believe to be universally true: that life is far more fleeting and uncertain than you realize, that everyone, without fail, when they are dying, wishes they had spent more time with the people they love; that love is both the question and the answer.
And that the love of which I speak has nothing whatsoever to do with an emoji.