The Importance of Being There

largeAs adults we wear many different hats, all of which takes chunks of time to accomplish. We have relationships to nurture with family and friends. We may hold jobs that demand enormous numbers of hours. We want to be healthy, and so we may be dedicated to a routine of exercise and healthy eating. If we are religious we attend church services or read from tracts integral to better understanding our faiths. There are tasks related to our finances, the maintenance of our homes, and personal care and feeding. We push back moments of relaxation even though we know that we need them as much as the other dynamics of living. We are on the go from the moment that we arise in the morning until we fall exhausted into bed at night, sometimes far later than we might have wished. If anything happens to alter our routines we may feel as though we are drowning. An accident, an illness, a death, an unexpected event has the power of throwing us out of kilter, because we already feel pushed and prodded from all sides. Since we are responsible we do our best to satisfy everyone who is asking us to give them our time and talents, but we often feel as though we are slighting everyone and every aspect of our busy days. We find people among us who appear to keep it together so much better than we do which only adds to our feelings of imperfection. We are taught to admire the over achievers among us and to scoff at slackers, but we somehow think that living on a perpetually moving hamster wheel isn’t the best way to spend our days.

I’m as guilty of running at full speed in the rat race as anyone. I tend to be a classic Type A personality. I recall times when my mother or my in-laws would drop by our home unexpectedly throwing my finely honed schedule into a state of chaos. I still remember how anxious I felt and how much I wanted them to leave as quickly as possible so that I might resume my routines. Sadly I can’t remember any of the tasks that I was so frantic to do, but I do have fond memories of those visits and I find myself wishing with all of my heart that my loved ones might come knocking on my door once again. It’s funny how our perspective changes over time, and how we ultimately come to value our relationships over all of the other distractions that once seemed so important.

I copied a quote from someone’s Facebook wall that spoke to me. It goes something like this:

What if we stopped celebrating busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrate how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives? —-Greg McKeown

It’s funny how Mr. McKeown’s words are little more than common sense, but they seem so profound. Why is it that we all too often choose to ignore what is truly significant in favor of tasks and duties that other people tell us are important? Why are we so often fearful of shedding some of our responsibilities so that we might devote more of our time to making ourselves and the people around us happy? Why aren’t our heroes the people who have learned how to say “No”, or those who allow a bit of dust to accumulate in their homes so that they will be free to have some fun?

As an educator I sometimes encountered parents who were well known and highly regarded in the community because of their many outstanding achievements, but they were literally neglecting their children. Somehow their little ones had become not much more than props that helped in the advancement of their careers. When their kids began to falter and fail they could not understand that their continual absence from the home was a major contributing factor. Instead of altering their own behaviors they often threatened to send the young ones away if they did not work harder to overcome their lazy ways. What those students actually needed was a more stable and loving home life, not lectures on becoming more like their parents. The oft lauded parents had eschewed their duties in favor of devotion to careers, and somehow never learned how to balance their lives to include loving time for their offspring. 

I’ve also met brilliant men and women who chose to view their jobs as an adjunct to the real purpose of their lives, which was to build a nurturing and loving home. These individuals were often viewed as being rather average employees because they gave full efforts during normal work hours, but insisted on going home at reasonable times. For them what happened at the end of the day when family gathered together was the highlight of their efforts. The job was work, but what happened at home defined their essence. We sometimes overlook the enormous accomplishment of being an excellent parent, even to the point of dismissing women who spend a significant portion of their lives staying home to raise the children. We dismissively ask them what they do and judge them to be uninteresting once we realize that they have not had exciting careers outside of their homes.

Perhaps many of the ills that we presently see in society have their origin in the frantic paces that define so many of us. We are so busy running from one event to another that we don’t allow ourselves to do the things that Mr. Mckeown suggests should be backbone of our existence. If we were more willing to listen there would be far less hatred and far fewer broken souls. If we allowed ourselves to ponder the things that we see and hear and read we would be less inclined to fall for propaganda. If we were to make meditation an integral part of our days we might learn to relax and love ourselves just a bit more. If we were to spend more time with the people that matter most to us we would find more contentment, and most assuredly we would build more beautiful relationships and memories.

As I look back over the sixty plus years of my life I recall  hundreds of spectacular moments that make me smile and feel accomplished. Few of them resulted from performing mundane tasks to impress people who would eventually drift out of my life. The best of them center around people, members of my family, my friends, my students and colleagues. In the end it is not how busy we are that makes us important, but how well we spend the time that we have. In being there for ourselves and the people who mean the most to us we find our ultimate success.

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