It was one of my all-too-rare Perfect Mornings. I’d woken up early enough to have time to actually enjoy (instead of inhaling) my coffee and news (print and feeds). I was also able to squeeze in a short workout ( I have weights and a medicine ball at home, conspicuous in my main living area, so that it’s tough to sneak past them). I was just headed out the door, my hand on my doorknob, when there was a ‘knock’. Early morning knocks in my neighborhood are unusual, and a peep usually reveals someone I’m definitely not opening the door for. But this time, the knock happened to be a friend from out-of-state. He’d texted me that he was going to be in town to attend his sister’s memorial service. (she’d recently died from lung cancer), but I’d spaced out on the date and to see him at my front door was a surprise and an inconvenience. Today I caught myself thinking more about my own schedule; not about the compassion someone else deserved: “I could be the next one who needs help”.
I know that, at certain times in our lives, we lack situational awareness. Our concerns and problems dominate our thinking and our emotions, so that we impose on others in our desire for relationship. This can happen with total strangers, not just friends.
My son often accuses me of allowing (he’d use the word ‘inviting’) others to engage with me at random times and for random reasons. When he was last down to visit me (he lives about 3 hours away), we’d just had lunch and he wanted to make a stop at a clothing store. While he browsed the men’s section, I wandered to the women’s. Almost immediately, a woman approached me holding a very scarlet dress up to her neck and asked “What do you think?” Little did I know that my son was standing behind me (anxiously ready to leave the store, having found nothing of interest). After giving my input, I endured yet another eyeroll from him. I’m aware that I send out some kind of signal that causes animals, children, friends and complete strangers to sense that I’m approachable. But I’m also aware of a growing need to regulate this.
As diplomatically and as quickly as I could, I dis-engaged from the grieving friend who’d interrupted my morning with his need to connect. He had all of my contact information (and my assurance of my concern and care as a friend); still, he couldn’t resist the parting plea, “I hope you’ll be able to find the time to call me sometime”. I know grief and loss well. I know how it can make us feel, think, act and perceive. Still, his words lodged in my brain, and a tiny bit of annoyance bloomed there.
In personal or professional relationships, messages delivered to me as requests for my Time ( focus, effort, care / concern) always get my attention. Time, for busy people, is always in limited supply, sliced-up and divvied-out in the never-ending process of prioritizing. But who and what we allocate our time to is always a personal choice, even though it often doesn’t feel that way.
There’s a huge disconnect in our language (and therefore in our relationships) about Finding and Making time. ‘Finding’ time implies – which is why the phrase annoys me so – that there’s a big pile of Time lying ‘just over there’ that I can help myself to when I need more. ‘Making’ time, on the other hand, implies that time’s an unlimited personal resource that’s in my power to regenerate as needed. “I hope you can make time to take the dogs to the park on Saturday” is a sly statement that calls into question someone’s current priorities, and how they might be in conflict with someone else’s
This may seem like a petty and worn-out observation, but we all feel the pressure of too much to do, and not enough Time to do it. Time, and life, ticks by minute by minute. Let’s honor that fact and speak plainly to one another about what we need at any given moment. Let’s be brave enough, when we’re asked for our time, to give honest, yet compassionate responses.
Time is a gift we’re given, and a gift we freely share. We’ll never ‘find’ more, or ‘make’ more (so don’t ask).