In her book, Bird By Bird, writer Anne Lamott tells the story of going dress shopping with her best friend, Pammy. Anne was 38 and looking for an outfit that would impress her current boyfriend. Pammy was the same age and dying of breast cancer. When Anne emerged from the dressing room wearing a short, tight dress and asked if the dress made her hips look big, Pammy said, “Anne, you don’t have that kind of time.”
Whether it’s my age or the amount of loss I’ve had in my life, I think of this phrase all the time now. Sometimes, it’s what shakes me out of my daze as I’m wasting time, reading post after post on Facebook or shopping online at Chico’s for the perfect pair of earrings that I don’t really need.
At other moments, “you don’t have that kind of time” keeps me from doing something that I truly enjoy … reading an engrossing mystery novel, relaxing in our brown recliner with Buster on my lap, catching up on episodes of This Is Us that I haven’t yet seen. I know all too well how life can change in an instant, and I get caught up, racing to an imaginary finish line that exists only in my own mind.
I have pages of ideas of pieces I want to write for Salt Water, lists of people to interview for my work on grief in the workplace and “to do” lists everywhere .. on the computer, on printed sheets, scribbled on random pieces of paper. Projects and work that I couldn’t complete in my lifetime if I tried.
You don’t have that kind of time ..
So I focus instead on letting my breath out and giving myself permission to do what I can instead of what I think I should. Sometimes that means hibernating at home working all day. But more often than not, it means filling my days with people and activities that bring me joy, and saying ‘no’ to those that don’t.
Jimmy’s diagnosis and death taught me to say ‘no’ to offers and activities that I didn’t have time for or that I didn’t really, in my heart of hearts, want to do in the first place. With Pammy’s wise words as my mantra, I am learning the art of gracefully extracting myself from people, situations and commitments that don’t turn out to be who or what I expected, need or want. Bowing out gently instead of breaking glass. Preserving the relationship instead of making direct, sometimes hurtful statements. Focusing on making a difference in the world instead of worrying about social media followers or other people’s definition of success. Finding my way. Listening to my own heart. Making time for who and what matters.