Strapped for Time

Strapped for TimeSo I’m wandering down an empty lane thinking about how I’ve gotten myself into a place where time has me by the short hairs when I glance up and suddenly burst out laughing, quite alone and suddenly quite relaxed to spot my feelings so blatantly displayed for all to see. How likely is it that someone would have taped up this clock and dropped it onto my path on the very day I’m feeling overloaded? Strapped for time, that’s me, and a big thank you to the universe for letting me laugh it out in a big way.

I’m not sure about the nature of time. I know we all want more of it, but we’re quick to specify that we want *this* kind of time and not *that* kind of time. More time with those we love, and less time paying bills. More time to learn and create, and less time studying for finals. More time to savor a good meal and less time standing in supermarket lines. Of course there are a few enlightened souls among us who can make the most of the lines and the numbers and the tests and find joy there, but mostly we tend to bargain with time — this for that — rather than changing the way we experience it.

Like most, I experience change and attribute many of those changes to the passage of time. But how often have we said “it’s as if time stood still?” So change isn’t dependent on time, and time doesn’t always equal change. If I allot eight hours and fifteen minutes to a flight, I can walk the streets of Paris instead of Charlotte’s, but can I not *feel* Paris in an instant on any day of any year? And I can guarantee you that I’m able to dedicate eight hours to writing a proposal and get absolutely nothing of value accomplished. So honestly, the concept of time is pretty wishy washy, and how can I hold myself so accountable to wishy washy?

Let’s say I have ten great years left, and fifteen good ones, and five glad-to-be-here years. As a girl, my dad was really big on the Ten Year Plan, and he was always asking us about ours. At 25, I figured I was young enough to feel my way through it. At 60, planning my next Ten Fabulous Years has become high priority. Fortunately I’ve learned along the way that life can be pretty much exactly what you make it, and I love that daily creation.

Except for the unexpected. Never discount the unexpected. After 50, always eat dessert first. Don’t put aside your hopes and dreams.

So I’m going to look at this giant banded clock another way. Instead of Time wrapping her arms tight around me and demanding a response, I think I’ll tie these big blue bands around *her* for a week and breathe, dream, plan, and grab my joy. Sometimes You Gotta.

23

Mosaic Portrait by Pamela GoodeHaving just finished a self portrait from a photograph taken when I was 23, I’m rather enamored. She’s hanging on the wall across from me and, flaws aside, I like her. I like who she was — timid, too quiet, gentle and reticent — and I like who she’s become — brash, passionate, level-hearted, and wild for life. I like looking at her and knowing that she’s okay now, and that I am too. I like considering the deepness of her eyes so young, and knowing that I made her, moment by moment, each of 21,020 days now, give or take a few leap years. I like looking at her as she is, unaware of the intervening decades, and as I am now, aware and more or less okay with them. And I wonder, if she had peeked out the window in 1978 and caught a glimpse of us at 57, what would she say to this older self?

Would she be surprised at the friends I still hold close? And those I’ve let go?

Would she be surprised that I still sew, that I still read Faulkner, Eliot, and Nabokov, that I still write, that I’m still slow to speak?

Would she wonder how I found the nerve to travel alone, to open a business, to finally crack in the face of inequities and speak out, make waves, lose friends?

How disappointed would she be over my first marriage? How angry that it took me so long to learn to speak? How devastated over the too-many-times that I kept my mouth shut?

How much in awe at knowing our children, so like her and yet so not?

How stunned to realize that they are both older now than she is?

Our mother died six years ago, and missing her has changed my view of aging — a bit. I used to surprise myself by seeing her in the mirror now and then, and finding her skin across my legs and arms. Sometimes I scan the road ahead of my car, and I know I’m looking through my mother’s eyes, seeing with her hazel irises and interpreting my view in that funny way she had. For so long, I didn’t like these intrusions of age, but now I welcome them as a little more time spent with the woman who gave me life and shared it with me longer than anyone I know.

And when I glance across the room to 23 now, I’ve got that motherly thing going on. I want to protect her, to encourage her, to give her a fear of not living, to make sure she wrings every drop of life out of her years. In a way, I’m re-mothering myself, and she’s re-childing me.

Here’s what I miss most about those early years: knowing what you love and believing you’ll never, ever let go of it, for any reason; the certainty that everything is possible; being an impetus for change rather than fearing it; sharing a comfortable relationship with time; believing you’ll always be beautiful.

So yeah, she’s staying on the wall right in front of me. I suggest you post an image of yourself on the wall too — it’s quite the kickstarter.

Matrix

Matrix, Photo howtogeek.com

I can’t stop the numbers. They trill down my field of vision — awake, asleep, involved or staring into space, alone or with the ones I love. I’m not even certain if I’m seeing real numbers spewed like actuary tables of my years left on the planet, or colors like I’ll use to paint the remaining days, or simply a disconnect, as if all the trains are leaving the station at once and I can’t read the numbers fast enough to know which handle to grab for hoisting myself onto this ride.

Even though I love a metaphor, and this one certainly fits, I hate the numbers. I’m not given to panic attacks, but even in the heart of my quiet moments, I find myself not breathing, or breathing too much, or stopped in my tracks wondering how to breathe, and of course I blame this all on the numbers.

I am awash with numbers. Statistics, probabilities, centimeters, directions, weights and measurements, years, months, days, recovery times, usable hours in a day, fractions for dividing available time into necessary tasks, blueprints for the time I have left. I’m not a numbers girl, and I want them to go away.

As days go, I’ve been a little better lately — more time with family and a few friends, more emails answered and a more manageable pile of things left undone. And I’ve been a little worse — more in need of two bodies that will pin me between them on the sofa in the evenings, laughing at nothing and making sure I stay upright and intact. For every bit of normal-ness I wear in a day, I carry three times the weight of embryonic panic.

And so I stare a lot more now, looking for that steady place in my soul that keeps me still. Trying to find the balance in breath, which is shockingly difficult when you’re off kilter. Trying to live the truth that what’s “important” will vary on a daily (hourly) basis, and that it doesn’t matter if others don’t understand.

In a former life a coworker said, “Every time I look over, she’s just staring out the window,” and another said, “She’s not just staring, she’s designing — that’s how they do it.” And I hope (and believe, in a very small way just now) that I’m designing. I hope that my staring and breathing is giving (new) life to the balance of my days. I hope soon the numbers will stop and the design will begin to make sense in a way that I can recognize and welcome and begin to play with like fingerpaints, when everything is possible and there are no lines or graphs to fit into.

But for now, there are still the running, screaming numbers. Surgery in nine days. Anticipated one week recovery. Anticipated three to four weeks healing. Hoped-for one week balloon radiation; otherwise five – seven weeks of daily radiation. Five years (1,825 days) taking an estrogen-sucking drug (“If you want to live,” said doctor #1) or (“Your choice,” said doctor #2).

And Poof! Over. Done with. On with your life.

But I will never be the same. And it will take a lot of staring and holding and breathing to get me to the next place.

And all of a Sudden . . .

Big Ben by Martin Keene

the wait was over. It’s like the Limbo Dial spun itself silly and suddenly I was plunked down on the sidewalk, handed a quarter, and told to be on my merry way. And a merry way it shall be. But still . . .

I can’t help wondering who the timekeeper of this universe is. I can’t help wondering why forward motion stops with a jerk and leaves you dangling on the threshold of a leap. I can’t help wondering what lubricates the rusty key and gets the whole shebang moving again just as if you didn’t spend those months staring at days that crept by, eying you warily to make sure you stayed put, uninvolved, uninvited, fettered and quite inanimate. And most of all, I can’t help wondering why the wheel stops short for so many of us at almost the same exact moment in this anathema called TIME, and how it can be possible for the wheel to wind back up and heave forward in a single motion, the same single motion at the same single moment for those same ones of us again. And perhaps . . . I wonder . . . could groups of us be united not so much by common traits or experiences or hair color or literary loves, but simply because we’ve found ourselves on the same capricious wheel, whirring along at the same speed, sharing the same lulls, the same bumps, the same spurts? Could it be?

And so the wheel begins again and it’s almost as though it never stopped. Flurry replaces lethargy; the mind spins; feet become fleet; busy-ness soothes us and feels good. I don’t know what it meant — the waiting — but I’m glad it’s gone for a time. Godspeed.