I considered postponing my blog a week. I’ve been up at my cottage with my family and so much of me wanted to just be on holiday. The problem with working for yourself is you’re never quite sure when you’re off. You don’t have a “work day” or “quitting time”. Your weekends aren’t for recuperating or taking time off and there is no formal vacation. Sure, you can choose not to work whenever it suits you, but if you want to succeed, those times are few and far between. In my personal world of full time mothering and trying to launch a career, any time I have to myself (read: awake with someone else responsible for Loch) I feel I should be working.
“Should” is sort of a dreaded word in my family. I associate it with my grandmother who used the word often. It implies an outsider’s perception of what you are expected to be accomplishing or an implicit benchmark you are assumed to be striving for. It can be used by my mother (sounding like a mimic of her own mother) regarding my behavior, “You know what you should do…” or most recently Loch’s behavior, “he shouldn’t be doing that” or “he should know that” but it can also just be a voice in my head pressuring me to meet certain life requirements. “Should” is full of innate pressures that can needle you into a unsettled state. “Should” calls attention to your shortcomings and compares you to some unknown flawless person who is clearly making better choices than you. On the flip side however, “should” can also be a catalyst to accomplishment when you would otherwise be too lazy or distracted to complete a task. The spur you need to run that proverbial extra mile.
So, when the thought of enjoying a day with my family instead of sitting down to write reared it’s head, the “should’s” forced me to get cracking. I realize that my blog is hardly life or death. That few will notice if it’s a week late or that this week, even with my best intentions, it will come out a day late due to the fact that I am unable to publish from up north, but even so, I felt unable to relax and just let things go. I have no editor. No deadlines but the ones I impose on myself. No one is looking over my shoulder, but if I become lax about my work ethic, what will I accomplish?
What occurred to me, while debating working or not, was the concept of living each day as if it’s your last. For obvious reasons I understand this feeling better than others, but for me, the concept itself highlights an interesting quandary. If today is my last day (or my last month or my last year) what am I doing alone in a room working on a computer? If today is my last day why am I concerned with work at all? If I’m supposed to be living as if I’m going to be gone tomorrow, why should I save my money or deny myself anything? If it’s all ending why should I care about my weight or make any effort with my appearance?
How do you live each day like it’s your last, while still planning for a much longer existence? How do those two ideas reconcile into one life plan?
I understand the concept of treating others as if it was their last day on earth. To give people the care and compassion you would devote to someone on their way out. If you were interacting with someone who would be gone tomorrow would you brush them off or speed them along? No, you would put yourself aside and truly listen in an attempt to understand their feelings and fears. You would be more indulgent of their shortcomings and not rush the interaction to better suit your timeline. I understand that mindset and I think it would be a wonderful way to live, at the very least a noble goal to strive for. More often than not however, my lack of patience interrupts my quest to be a better, kinder soul and I feel intolerant and frustrated with people’s weaknesses. It’s not my best quality and one I strive to improve, particularly in trying situations.
A story was recently being circulated around Facebook. It’s been around for years but it never fails to affect me:
“A cab driver was waiting outside a brownstone in New York City. It had been a long day and he was ready to go home. He’d taken this last call and was now waiting, endlessly for his fare to come downstairs. He considered driving away but thought better of it and continued to wait. Eventually a tiny, little old lady opened the door with a suitcase in her hand. He stepped out of the taxi and helped her into the waiting car. When he asked for the address she gave it to him but asked if he would mind making a stop on the way. Tired but resolved he agreed and took his fare across town to a little tenement while she told him a story. She’d moved to the city when she was 18 with her new husband. The building she wanted to see was the first place they’d lived as man and wife. He was gone now, as were her children and friends, and she was finally moving out of the city into a home (that was the address she’d given him). With no one left, she knew this was her last opportunity to see her first home. Touched by her words, and turning off the meter, the driver asked if she had any other places she’d like to see again. Over the course of the night the driver and the elderly lady revisited all her old stomping grounds, the hospital where her children were born, the place of her first job, the theatre she’d seen her first play… As the sun started to rise over the horizon, she settled back into her seat and said, “Thank you. I’m ready to go now.” Without another word they left the city where she’d spent her life. As the driver helped the lady out of the car and into her new home, she thanked him again. The gratitude on her face was worth more than any night at home would have offered him. As he drove away he wondered what would have happened if it hadn’t been him that took the call, if someone in a bad mood or a rush had picked her up, or even more close to home, if he’d driven off as he’d considered doing.”
Every time I read that story I like to think I’d behave like the cabbie. It’s what I should do isn’t’ it? We should plan for the future. We should live in the now. We should act like this or behave like that. The should’s have a hold in all aspects of our lives. Yes, we should be kind to little old ladies with no family, but it’s possible we might just drive off after waiting 10 minutes for an unknown passenger.
The concept of treating others as if it’s there last day is poignant and effective and one I feel I can fully understand. What I have trouble with is living my own life with the same consideration. Living life as if it’s your last day is both confusing and depressing, and frankly altogether too close to home.
It’s a question of balance. We can’t live our whole life for this one day, nor can we put all our eggs in the basket of an unknown future. We shouldn’t give all of our energy to our careers so we’re burnt out when we get home to our families and we can’t give everything to our loved ones so we have nothing left for the rest of our lives. We have to find an equilibrium between work and life without failing to remember that people should always outweigh the importance of tasks, and just like the cabbie, if we find ourselves with the opportunity to give a little extra to others, “leave them happier than you found them” as my friend Ashley says, then perhaps we should attempt to do that as well.
Ultimately I think sitting down to write this blog was important not because the world needed to read it so much as I needed to write it. Writing gives me a sense of purpose, and helps balance out my role as mommy/wife/sick person. Does that mean after typing I won’t go back and hang out with my family or sit down and read a book? No, I need that too. I’m just not off the hook because no one is watching. I know better than that.
Or at least I “should”.
As a final thought I read a quote recently from the Dalai Lama about what surprised him most about humanity. He answered:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he’s so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and dies having never really lived.”