Dancing. Defense. Yoga. Litigation.
My life of constant perfecting and relentless over achieving is propelled by good timing. I’m not wildly talented at any one thing but I am a persistent student of the game. Games, actually. All of them. Students make observations, notes and assessments. Their central purpose is to learn what is right: The right action. The right language. The right time to speak up, settle down or listen in. They learn when to push forward or hold up or turn around.
Timing, is everything.
At 9:05 a.m. last Friday morning my phone rings and a picture of my mom from her 61st birthday flashes on my home screen. Today, is her 65th. Initially, I’m surprised. It’s a weird time of day to hear from her but we’ve been hustling plans for a celebration later so maybe she has an urgent update. Or request.
As soon as I pick up the phone I know what’s happening. I hear her elevated heartbeat and breathless panic before she even gets a word out.
Her boyfriend. Her soulmate. Her partner of eleven years, is gone.
I stand up and close my computer screen. I catch my backpack on a metal chair as I race out of the coffee bar, stumbling, then straightening out, breathing heavily and trying to stay focused on the three or four phone calls I have to make in the 15 miles to my mom’s house. She’ll need my full attention when I get there.
Minutes earlier, I was lost in the formulation of a to do list for my day off and a strategy for my business. I was launching my next career move while simultaneously planning for my work trip in two weeks and writing eight or nine emails in my head. I was agonizing about an upcoming visit with my best friend from law school, preemptively trying to squelch the related emotions.
My brain was almost at capacity when the phone rang.
And in 12 seconds with fewer than three sentences exchanged between me and my mom, everything evaporated.
The only thing that mattered was getting to my mom.
In August, Brian, my mom’s partner, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given six months to live. It was devastating and heartbreaking and I felt a complicated sadness, feelings of grief mixed with a desire to stay present. My own sense of tragedy overlapping with my mom’s emotional experience. All of us wanting to cherish our time together, doing our best to save the pain for when it wouldn’t interfere with the joy we could still share as a family.
Time slows down when someone is dying. We are suddenly more attentive to how we invest our time and the way we treat each other. We map out our lives in moments, instead of weeks, or months or years. Our priorities are effortlessly rearranged and we pause to consider why it is that they need rearranging. With a finite timeline, we move forward with purpose, and intention.
My intention was to make sure Brian knew what he meant to me before he died.
I pictured a private conversation, maybe in his room, by his bed side. I’d hold his hand and get teary eyed. We’d both cry softly so my mom wouldn’t hear. I’d start by sharing my gratitude for who he is for my mom. Her loyal companion and partner, a source of unconditional love and unrelenting support. A resurrection of her faith in partnership and a reminder of the type of devotion she is worthy of. A man who stands by her. And with her. And cares for her, mostly by letting her care for everyone else.
Next, I’d be funny, because it’s easier for me than straight-forward vulnerability. I’d joke about nightmare step parents and how my brother and I routinely celebrate Brian’s special approach to his sometimes ambiguous role and unique relationship with both of us. He is generous but unobtrusive. He is family without force. A provider of wisdom and advice with no attachment to whether we heed it, or not.
I’d admit that I never made it easy on him. With my demands and preferences and my unapologetic consumption of my mom’s time and space.
It’s the space that I’ve always been most grateful for, the way he honored by mom by making space for me, and our relationship.
Space to be a grown up. Space to be a child. Space to just be.
Softened by our conversation, I’d tell him I love him. That I’ve always loved him even though I never said it out loud. I’d apologize because now it sounds ridiculous. To love someone without telling them. To hoard the words because of how they might sound.
I’d close by promising to take care of my mom. To make sure she heals enough to be happy again, the type of happy that she made him. He’s worried about leaving her and I reassure him that she is strong and brave and resilient. I can’t imagine loving her more, or harder, but I will try to love her twice as much after he’s gone.
The time for our talk never came. The night before he died I missed another opportunity to tell him I loved him because I knew I’d see him tomorrow. My well articulated plans for “goodbye” unraveled in the way time shortens, and changes, unexpectedly. 6 months became two months, overnight.
Time feels infinite until it isn’t, and six months was only an estimation, a perception, all along.
Dancing. Defense. Yoga. Litigation.
Rhythm and patterns and steady measured, breaths.
Predictability and routine give me a sense of control and comfort. Repetition gives me the security that the chance, the moment, the feeling will come around again.
It’s an illusion of regularity, a distortion of how time, and life really moves.
Six months and ten years and five decades all break down into a series of present moments that only last as long as we stay connected to them. Time is only measured once the moment is gone.
I see how my obsession with timing interferes with my experience of time. My desire to be in my next job prevents me from experiencing the love I have for my current one. My anxiety about the future of my relationship obscures the joy I feel from it right now. I think about how many times I’ve said “it’s not a good time,” because I was waiting for a person or salary or state of mind that never arrived. I see how I lean into the “sure thing” and the “safe bet” even though life is teaching me, over and over again, that neither exists.
There is no bad time to: tell someone you love them, share yourself generously or say yes to something you want even if it’s scary or uncomfortable or uncertain. There is no bad time to be who you are, or who you want to be, or who you intend to be in the future. There is no bad time to regroup, re-set or apologize.
There is no bad time to let go of the idea that there is such a thing as bad timing.