bunt sign

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I guess all people have to figure out how much of the world they want to fit into their lives. I know that many of us can't think of it that way, because life is simply too busy to think about anything beyond survival. But for those who have the luxury of making daily decisions about how we live, it can be a struggle to fit it all in. Sometimes you have to make some painful decisions that amount to lopping off pieces of yourself.

When I started college, I wanted to learn everything. I couldn't stand the thought that there were things I'd never know about. That's why, against all logic, I chose English as my major, and took as many general education classes as I could fit into a schedule.

My freshman roommate was an engineering major, totally focused on his future. He seemed so sure of himself that at times I was jealous of him. It must be comforting, I thought, to know where you're going, and that you're doing what you need to do to get there. When he flunked out after one year I wasn't so envious, but the point is still valid.

I didn't declare a minor, which allowed me the freedom to study in any department that interested me. I took more science classes than were required, including a geology class where I was way over my head. I even took calculus, instead of the fluffier math classes for non-math students, just because it sounded interesting. It seemed like something I should do, as if avoiding it would be a kind of cowardice.

It took more time to get through that class than it was probably worth. I probably should have used that time more wisely, but I did pass, and that provided me with some satisfaction. Whatever I learned was lost to me forever by the day after the final exam, but I proved to myself I could succeed where others (i.e., my counselor) expected me to fail. That was worth something to me at the time.

I was young enough then, and with few enough responsibilities, that it seemed I could consume all life had to offer. I don't remember many of the details of all the diverse classes I took, but at the time I was voracious about fitting everything possible into my world. (Which consisted, now that I think about it, of half of a cramped room in a freshman dorm, so in a way I was lucky I could fit in as much as I did.)

A few years have gone by since then. I no longer feel as if I have the time to do it all. In fact, it's all I can do these days to fit in a few hours of sleep every night. I made the executive decision today that I needed a nap more than I needed to keep working and nodding off at my desk. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

This afternoon, I was sitting on the porch reading when I started thinking about all this. Here I was, in the middle of the work day, choosing to spend an hour not working, because at the moment reading seemed more important to me. I'm so grateful that I have the chance to make these rash decisions, and that there's no one around to question me about them.

Now most of the choices I have are made daily, on the fly, without regard to whatever the years to come might bring. I don't know if that's because I'm so comfortable with my life that I'm coasting downstream instead of trying to paddle against the current, the way I once did.

It might just be that I don't see as much future ahead, so there's less urgency about making long-range plans. As the days get fewer, each one carries more weight, and the way I spend it matters more. The ponderous consideration I used to give to blocks of time I could measure in months, or even years, I now devote to how I'm going to spend the next twenty minutes.

Later on this afternoon, when I was ready to put down the book and pull on the leather gardening gloves, I had to make another decision. Sometimes I'm satisfied to get down on my hands and knees and pull up the weeds that grow in the cracks between the paving stones. This doesn't fill up the yard waste container, but it does make the garden look better.

Today I was into macro-weeding. I hauled the container out to the edge of the back yard and started pulling up the gross, brown, stickery monstrosities that grow higher than the fence. It fills up the can much more quickly, and I get scratches all over my skin, but on this day I got some satisfaction out of that. You can't tell I did anything at all, but it felt good doing it.

On other days, the best decision I can make is to leave things alone. Often these days I prefer reading, or watching my telenovelas, or even working later at my desk, to working in the yard. These decisions aren't as monumental as the ones I made when I was younger, any one of which could have altered the path my life was to take. But in a way I get the same feeling that I'm taking charge of my allotment of time whenever I choose between sitting here and going out there.

partly cloudy

Looking through the garden toward the southwest at a cloudy afternoon sky.

I did choose to watch a bit more news today than I did yesterday. I'm not sure I'm any the better for it, though. In the long run, I'll be better off if I'm better informed. I'm just not sure the day-to-day details are a necessary part of this process, especially when the "facts" change hourly. Things we were assured last week were true are now once again in question. If it's doubt and fear that the terrorists want us to feel, they might think they've been successful so far.

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