Several months ago, the pastor of our Unitarian Universalist church gave an excellent sermon that resonated strongly with us. A woman about our age and recently back from maternity leave after having her first child, she addressed the issue of “extreme living”. Citing our culture’s deep fascination with “extreme” sports and various other highly esteemed extremes, she argued that a good many of us are involved in “extreme living,” including such favorites as Extreme Working, Extreme Spending, Extreme Drinking, and Extreme Eating. She said it a lot more eloquently, but you get the idea.
She went on to discuss the importance of leaving margins in our lives. A metaphor she used is that our lives ought to have margins around them, much in the way that a book page has margins, arguing that the text on a page would be far too difficult to read and even to understand properly were it not for those open, empty spaces around them. When we are living our lives to the extreme – stretched to its very limits with no open spaces – we can neither see nor understand what we are doing.
Ah. Right. Ahem.
I haven’t had much in the way of margins in a long time, probably in about 5 years, but the good news is: I do this summer. Every few months after our big move from San Francisco to Chicago two years ago, I have thought, “Now we’re settled!” And then another six months go by, and I discover that we hadn’t been. At all. Perhaps six months from now I’ll look back on this summer and think, “P’shaw! I thought that was ‘settled‘?” but the difference in our lives and schedule from last summer to this one is tremendous. I can’t get over how lovely it is.
What do I mean when I say I have margins in my life right now? Well, it’s things like being more leisurely – and having longer workouts a few days a week – in the morning and not leaving the house until 8:30 or 9:00 for work since I’m not driving the carpool. Not running Lyle to and from nursery school on my days off, and allowing him to nap as long as he’d like on those days, since we don’t have to go pick Baxter up at school at 3. Having loads more time with the boys, and playing “road trucks” with Lyle on the floor multiple times a day. I also rescheduled my clients when things got quieter for the summer so that two days a week my schedule is jam-packed but the third day I can work from home or get errands done, rather than driving down to the clinic.
It means that when Baxter learns to jump off the diving board, I have time to dig out my childhood photo album and show him photos of me jumping off the high dive when I was a few years older than him. He loves this, and spends a long time poring over my childhood album, connecting with my experiences and laughing about photos of his uncles and aunts as small children. When he asks for a photo to be taken of himself jumping so that he can “show [his] own kids someday when they learn to jump off the diving board”, I remember to bring the good camera and take such a picture for this purpose. I am thinking straight and am able to do lots of fun extras.
Because I am spending the mornings with Lyle instead of sending him to school right now, he naps on my days off: he’s not clamoring for that time with me. This means that, with Baxter reading entire chapter books in a 2-hour sitting (thank you, Animorphs), I can lie down and read a book or even fall asleep for one of my 10-minute cat naps while Lyle sleeps, something that has never happened before. Some nights I even go to bed earlier than 11pm. Blissful.
I’m still behind on things. I will always be behind on things. I also have major changes coming up in my practice in the next few months and I am going to be operating outside my comfort zone in multiple ways. I am aware of an undercurrent of anxiety about these things because I am having stress dreams for the first time in years. But having some margins in my days – not living life to an extreme – leaves me feeling relaxed enough not to be concerned about that. Things will get done. My comfort zone will shift to include all of the new things I’m going to be doing; I have great support people in place to help me with each new endeavor.
From this vantage point, where I am not over-committed all day every day, I can see the text of my life.
I’ll be fine.