Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How to Spend Time

Question from a blog reader: "What do you think is the best way to spend the time we have left, regardless of how long that might be?"

This is such a tricky question, and I suspect many people who try to answer it aren't telling the truth.

Popular answer: Spend your time doing what you want to do, not what society or your family expect you to do. Follow your dreams; don't let anything get in the way of your dreams.

I think that's unrealistic and selfish. For example, I think we should all strive to find a job that will make us feel fulfilled and happy, but that's just not possible sometimes. Most of us have to work jobs that make us miserable because we have to pay the bills. But that doesn't mean we should give up trying to find fulfillment in our work days in whatever ways we can.

We may not want to spend time with our relatives or go to a friend's kid's birthday party, but we do these things because that's what we do for people we care about. You may have dreams about climbing Mount Everest or finding the cure for cancer, but that might mean risking dying on a mountain and making your kids motherless or spending every waking hour in the lab and not being around for your kids and husband.

I have a hard time with this question because I still don't know. The real rub for me is the bit about "regardless of how long that might be". If I had two months to live, I'd spend my time very differently than if I had two years to live. I've gone back and forth from thinking I have two months to two years, and even many, many years.

So for a few weeks, I'm full-speed ahead with the journals for the kids, making videos for them, collecting keepsakes for their "memory boxes". Then I get lulled into thinking that my remaining life might be measured in years instead of months and I spend my days doing everyday things. And this, knowing that if I suddenly realized I had a few months left, I'd be struggling to do everything I wanted to for the kids.

It's like leaving a term paper until the last minute. I always did that in college. I'd have a month to write a paper, and I'd leave it till the night before and stay up all night writing in a desperate hurry and end up handing in something I wasn't happy with. I've even passed in papers with written apologies to the professors for turning in something that wasn't my best. I'm not sure I can get away with that now. My kids might not give me good grades for motherhood if I don't spend more time on my final assignment.

I guess it's a matter of two extremes: Live every day as if it were my last (just plain silly), or expect to have a normal life span, no matter what the medical evidence says. My answer is to find something in the middle. That, or go back and forth like I have been.

My recent decision to write regularly in my blog is one way to prepare for my death. I'm leaving behind a written record of my thoughts for my kids to read after I'm gone. It's also a way for me to learn something about myself and others, and for others to learn something about me. It's my last assignment as a student and my last lesson as a teacher.

Maybe the answer to the question of how to spend whatever time we have left is... spend it in way that won't leave you with too many regrets on your last day.

When you're on your deathbed, I doubt you'll be thinking, "I'm so glad I finished that presentation that got me my promotion and made me lots of money, even if it meant I had to miss my daughter's most important piano recital." But you might be thinking, "I'm glad I made it to her last piano recital after all these years of missing it. The look on her face when she spotted me in the audience was priceless. She'll remember that night long after I'm gone, and, I hope, forget all those years that I let her down."


PapaWog said...

Agree that it's the balance between today and tomorrow, never knowing whether we have a few tomorrows or many tomorrows. A friend of mine took his mother and sister on a trip to Europe after talking about it for a long time. Now that his mother is gone, I'm sure he is glad that he didn't postpone that trip another year. I find that I tend to live too much in the future (saving for retirement, planning for my kids' college, etc.), so I seek more emphasis on today, reminding the people who I love that I love them (spending time with them) and doing the things that I enjoy doing. You remind me to be thankful for today Shin.

ALI KATI said...

Thanks for answering both my tricky questions. It was great to read your thought process when tackling difficult and uncertain questions in such a time. As always, you're very honest.