It’s Canadian Thanksgiving. We had all the trimmings over the weekend and today I’m going to enjoy chicken noodle soup and leftover pecan pie.
As we sat around the table yesterday highlighting things we were thankful for I felt…grateful. It may seem cliche to list health and family and our home but, really, can we ever be too thankful for these things? It’s so easy to take it all for granted; we assume our loved ones will be with us next year, assume we’ll still be living in the same home, assume we’ll still be enjoying the same level of health.
But, in reality, we’re all a single heartbeat away from a different life experience – from tragedy or disease; new jobs, a different home – and taking the time to reflect on all we have in the present can help, at least temporarily, to pin down that elusive perspective.
It has been a relief to ease into the routines of fall and school. Cooler days, longer nights. Bedtimes are slowly nudging back to more reasonable timeframes. I’ve also assumed a new role – one that leaves me working nearly full-time hours. Surprise, surprise: working more hours makes time pass more quickly. I’ve had to increase my efficiency with certain tasks and will almost certainly have to eliminate others altogether.
I recently finished Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. I love a good time management book, but this one is a little different. For one, Burkeman spends a significant portion of the book talking about death; he highlights the only time we’re not going to have a long laundry list of to-do’s is when we’re six-feet under. And then he actually argues against many of the time-saving techniques we life hackers enjoy so much. His central tenet: there is never going to be enough time to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Accept this. Productivity, much of the time, simply leaves us open to accept more responsibilities.
I will never be able to get it all done. And yet, I think I’m often aiming for this fantasy state. I like to imagine that some morning I’ll wake up and be on top of everything. And then have it stay that way. Forever.
This just isn’t going to happen – I should know this by now. Children get fevers, check-engine lights come on, tensions flare. Inbox “zero” becomes full again. The trash I emptied on Friday will need to be emptied again. Taxes will need to be refiled. Such is life.
I also cannot do everything that interests me; there isn’t enough time for that either. I might be able to learn how to play the piano, but I’m probably never going to go through an astronaut training program and reach space (though one never knows when SpaceX might come calling).
Money, time – we face the reality of limited resources. And, ultimately, we’re all riding the sands of a draining hourglass. Four thousand weeks, give or take, by Burkeman’s estimate. This would put me just shy of my 77th birthday.
Which brings us back to good things. Despite what could be contrived as a negative tone (death, productivity is a hoax), Burkeman offers up a solution. Acceptance. Awareness. Perspective.
There is a lot of good in my life. I’m so fortunate to have a loving, supportive spouse; my children are healthy; my parents are alive. We live in a wonderful community surrounded by friends. We simply turn on the tap to access clean, running water. We have money to put food on the table. We worship freely.
But sometimes even good things can distract me from what I truly value in life and where I want to channel my energies. Learning the piano would be a great skill (I love music and I deeply regret my decision to quit childhood lessons) – but do I want to make the time right now? At this point, the answer is no.
And that’s okay.
With that in mind, this Thanksgiving, in addition to all the good things, I’m thinking of:
(good) things I don’t have to do
- I don’t have to take my friend with a newborn a meal immediately after giving birth. I know I will, eventually, once the dust settles and everyone else has stopped with the official meal train. But I don’t have to this week, when we have company visiting and cross-country meets and a seemingly endless string of e-mails. I can’t do everything and while I could get an extra meal out the door, I’d be cranky and stretched thin to do so.
- I don’t have to sign Abby up for choir. Yes it’s a great experience, but she doesn’t love it and, frankly, it’s a scheduling hassle. She will survive. There will be other opporuntities to sing.
- I don’t have to cook from scratch. Boxed cookies will suffice. Mini-carrots are still a vegetable even if I don’t have to wield a peeler. And who are we kidding, I could never recreate our beloved (boughten) pecan pie. Why bother trying?
- I don’t have to commit to a specific workout routine. I don’t have to run everyday or try the Pilates video my friend recommended.
Happy Thanksgiving. Cheers to all the wonderful blessings and here’s to making the most of our four thousand weeks. Not a single one is guaranteed, and I too often forget the miracle of each one.