Why wait? I opened up Facebook the other day to see a friend’s status staring at me, reflecting back one of my basic operating principals.
I determined this to be good operating policy a long time ago for a not very profound reason. We were living in Virginia and had three small children and a small budget. Or perhaps it was North Carolina when we had three smaller children, an even smaller budget, and many jobs between us. At any rate, Mark’s parents flew us out to California for a significant family event and we were going to take the kids to Disneyland. You can imagine the excitement and buildup to this magnificent event.
The question was when to go – at the start of our trip or near the end. Nothing prevented us from going near the start – we just didn’t. And in the last week, Mark got sick. Very sick. Just a cold, flu-type thing, but he was weak and Disneyland was in real jeopardy. It came down to the wire and he thought he was perhaps well enough but we might need a wheelchair to push him if his energy flagged, and then it rained. His dad said it was folly to drive from Ventura to Anaheim in the rain and try to visit Disneyland. We insisted so his dad insisted on coming with us and doing the driving.
We went, I’m sure the kids had a good time, but I have no memory of the visit at all. My main memory is kicking myself for not going right away at the start of the trip. Ever since that day so long ago, I have determined not to postpone doing things that are important.
Of course, there are varying degrees of import. When you are young, broke, and have the chance of a paid-for Disneyland trip for your kids, that’s one kind of important. Nothing really hangs in the balance. Then there is the other extreme, when life hangs in the balance.
I suppose that could mean telling people what you’ve always wanted to tell them, something we always think might be a good idea but never quite get around to. But when my mother-in-law died, my daughter Karen wondered why we wait until people die to say what we think of them. She thought we should tell each other what we thought of each other right now – so my husband, our three girls, and I wrote individual essays about each other saying just that. It was hard work – that’s four thoughtful essays each – but I bound them in a booklet called Family Tributes and it was and is something precious to have. As I reread, it’s also become something to live up to.
A more active interpretation of DO IT NOW is just that – do it now, don’t wait until life hangs in the balance. About eight years ago I told my husband I would be traveling and I hoped he would come with me. I was watching too many people in my school district save up and wait until retirement to start traveling, at which time they or their spouses dropped dead. Literally. And I watched a math teacher stand in our break room in bewilderment after his brother, barely 30, had died of a heart attack, wondering why he and his wife were working so many jobs all the time and never spending a dime. He vowed to take the kids on vacation that summer. There is never a good time to do something. There is never the perfect time. There is never enough money. You just have to DO it while you have the health and the time and just enough money.
Another way to look at that statement to DO IT NOW is in an everyday kind of way. My father recently died and in examining his life – which I’m just beginning to do, really – I’m starting to peel away the layers of a complex individual who used every moment doing what he loved. He wanted to be an artist since he was a child and he was an artist. From his boyhood until his 80s he thrilled to the feel of a paintbrush in his hand and the excitement of whatever he was working on. He did what he wanted every day of his life. This is not to say he wouldn’t have liked to have had more money – but he made a choice and knew what he was getting into by doing what he wanted. His entire life he Did it Now.
I think I just uncovered the key word in this reflection on DO IT NOW – choice. Just what exactly do you want to be doing so acutely that you must be doing it now? Coelho means of course what will fulfill your life, and I would wager not all of us can easily answer that question, but it’s worth thinking about. Our book club just read and discussed his novel The Alchemist, which was about following your personal legend (which seems a contrived way of saying personal dream, but maybe it’s just the translation). And it’s all well and good to follow your personal dream but if we are all running around pursuing our personal dreams I think chaos will result.
What started as a simple reflection on doing what we want now or we’ll run out of time has morphed into a crazy mess of doing what now, how do we choose what we really want to do, how far do we pursue it even if it means abdicating responsibilities, and are we talking about a grand scale here or just day-to-day. Knowing that Coelho, who wrote the above quote that caught my eye, wrote The Alchemist, I think his quote is oriented toward the grand scale. However, The Alchemist is a modern-day fable and we can take the message as we will.
I take it as a reminder on a scale large and small. We all waste time, or misuse it. Or fritter it. But we do it less as we get older and understand that our own mortality is facing us and indeed, if we are going to do it, we’d better get on with it. The question is, what is IT. I think our hearts can tell us that answer to some degree. What do we respond viscerally to? If we don’t know, it really will be too late.
I know what it is for me. It’s not a grand answer. It’s seize the moments as they come. It’s not letting fear hold me back. It’s keeping the enthusiasm and interest to see and experience. Small example: I read two weeks ago that this year the bloom of Joshua Trees is unprecedented, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime. My response? Must see! So we made it happen. Can’t wait. See, learn, go, do. Teach. Kids, grandkids, husband, friends, family. Give them all experiences. I think I have done pretty well in the DO IT NOW department. But I do have to get to Antarctica. Can’t wait long. Money, health – who knows how long those things will hold out? Like Coelho says, one day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time. I can’t get it all done but as long as I keep thinking, revising, reflecting, paying attention, and seizing the special moments, I think I’ll get enough done now of what I want to do.