A Lesson in How to Accept Graciously the Gift of Time

“The Gift of Time” – the idea sounds simple but, in truth, I never truly understood the phrase until the past few months. For the first time in my life, things came to a screeching halt as my days of work in the conventional sense ended and I reinvented the possibilities of what a day could become. In the early days, I envisioned sitting in front of the television with a bowl of cereal tucked under my chin, catching the errant drips of milk from my mouth as I sat mesmerized by the likes of Judge Judy and The Price Is Right.  Since I see Judy as a mentor in the snippy responses department, studying her could be considered an education.  I honestly welcomed the idea of becoming skilled at guessing the ‘right price’ through the study of games like ‘Price Tags’ or cringing as the little mountain climber tipped over the summit in ‘Cliff Hanger’.  Then again, I could always embark on a full day of vintage TV – Family Affair, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and That Girl, stacked like cards in the deck of the Me TV viewing schedule. The possibilities were endless and I looked forward to the utter mindlessness of it all.

In reality (and somewhat sadly), none of these lofty goals were attained; rather, quite the opposite occurred. After the initial shock to my unemployed system subsided, my mind ignited.  I made a point of starting my day early, looking to the list of ‘To Do’s,’ created the day before and offering focus and structure to my day.  With the Beatles Channel on Sirius as a soundtrack, I vigorously checked off items like ‘Call on insurance bill’, ‘Return library books’, and ‘Clean bathroom’. For fun, I took lessons in writing and photography.  When at home, I often watched from my dining room window as birds gathered at what I refer to as the ‘Birdie Buffet’.  The ‘Buffet’, an array of feeders of shapes, sizes, and purpose, arranged by my husband, attracted all manner of native birds as well as squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits.  I embraced the research as I indentified the breeds of my feathered friends; on other days, I employed my new found photography skills, combining them with my bird watching, as I waited, still as a statue, perched on a patio chair, to capture moments of birds in flight, a testimony to my ability to set effectively the controls of my camera.  Clearly, this was progress and some level of success. While I loved being the master of my daily destiny, a surreal specter hovered over the idyll that was my existence and stark reality set in when too many transfers transpired from savings to checking. At that point, I knew that I needed an income, as well as my well-developed taste for distraction. In response, I invented my own little company, attended seminars in all sorts of small business mastery, and sat back, awaiting the influx of dollars to refill the coffers.  Once again a contributing member of society, a new equilibrium emerged as I awakened to the realization that time was a gift, one that should not be squandered. I could do anything I wanted and my newfound, heightened level of consciousness was exhilarating!

Despite my hobbies, my diversions, and my fledgling business, I still had time on my hands so, in addition to these activities, I contributed to the operation of my extended family as the chauffeur to my grandchildren. While there is a bus available for school transport, three generations of Dello Russos, Cahalanes, and Kanes, all of whom have attended the local Catholic school, St. Raphael, have managed, for the most part, to avoid the torment that is a school bus ride. For all of us, riding the bus was a horrid fate and solely an emergency measure for when there is no ride available. Happy to continue our family legacy, I gladly assumed my new job, and in a surprise move, announced to my family that I would combine this commute with a commitment to daily Mass. I observed their sideways glances and could sense their fear that Mom was on her way to becoming a “Holy Roller”.  Little did they know that daily Mass has always been a life goal for me and now I had the time to achieve not just my goal, but secure my place in the afterlife.

Now months into my church habit, I have become a “regular”, along with all the ‘old people’ in my parish, many of whom I have known since my childhood.  I revel in the spirit of the students in the rows before me, who attend Mass by grade, depending on the day – Grades Three to Five on Wednesdays. Grade Two on Thursdays, and Grades Six to Eight on Fridays. I assume my usual seat, right in front of the huge oak column.  There is a familiarity in the wave to my fellow attendees during the ‘Sign of Peace.’ And, in the end, I emerge more peaceful for the time spent in the presence of God in that holy place.

Today was particularly special. Arriving a few minutes earlier to school than usual, I took a few minutes to visit my grandson Declan’s classroom.  Formerly assigned to Grade One in the ancient times of my era, this space had been the Kindergarten home to both of my children and now to both of my grandchildren.  Alive with color, children’s work, familiar early reading books, and palpable energy, my tiny escort, eager to show me everything, waltzed me from one end of the room to the next, pointing out items of particular interest because they were of his creation. The experience jumpstarted my day with a joy found in family legacy, the pride of a grandparent, and historical belonging, all of which have blessed me beyond description.

My reverie and tour ended abruptly when the bell rang for the beginning of school. I descended the stairs of my childhood and proceeded to my daily constitutional – Mass.  It was Friday so I knew that the row ahead would be filled with awkward, uniformed sixth graders and that we would be treated to a sermon by the Deacon, whose energy, as he preaches, permeates the church.  Asking the students directly about their favorite music, their hands raised, and when called upon, the kids shot out responses like “Panic at the Disco” (he had no idea) or “Ariana Grande” (he had heard of her) or the “Eagles” (he asked that student her age).  In response and brotherhood, he shared his own favorite, “The Beatles,” and pinpointed his favorite Beatle (we all have one), “George Harrison.”  I smiled involuntarily. This man was my spirit animal, sharing a love of both the band and the man, and I hung on his every word. He recalled some of the ideas that George expounded. A spiritual man, George Harrison never hesitated to acknowledge the presence of a higher power.  The sermon alluded to the glory days of fame and affluence in George’s life and George’s frustration with it all. He acknowledged George’s words: “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait.”  George’s reference to the need to connect to “God,” the universal God not dictated by sect, presented a challenge and a path. I love a meaningful sermon and today’s powerful message offered not only meaning but purpose in my need to connect, both spiritually in daily Mass and in the experience of  everyday.

It is a rare and brave person who uses his fame to express ideas of a higher power; George Harrison is one of those unique beings. In another of his many profound quotes, he states, “You’ve got as many lives as you like, and more, even ones you don’t want.” I stumbled into a life I really didn’t want only to emerge with a newfound appreciation for nature, writing, creativity, my own story, and my faith, all things I most likely would have never realized without the gift of time. Due to circumstances, I was forced to slow down, to take it all in, and truly to be present. In slowing down, every day offered a chance to understand what was important: using well the gift of time to feel deeply our moments of joy, the grace of inner peace, and our connection to a God. And George was right. Everything else truly can wait.  

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