Waking up predawn today I found a train of thought lurching around my brain that I knew I’d have to let out today. So here goes. Leap year has always fascinated me on a couple of fronts. First, it extended my birthday month by a whole day, so as a kid I thought that was cool. Second, I felt so sorry for people who were born on February 29, because they only got to have a birthday once every four years and couldn’t grow up very fast. Until I met someone who was born on February 29 who patiently explained the got a year older EVERY year, had a birthday party EVERY year, and usually had an extra special celebration on leap years. Again, I was a kid.
And I digress, this isn’t the topic of my blog or my insistent train of thought that pulled me out of sleep.
I have passed much of my adult life wishing I had more time, thinking that if only I had more hours in the day I would…you fill in in the blank. I am certain, in the busy times that envelop us all, that most of those who are good enough to read my words experience the same thoughts. So I ask myself (and you), what would you do with an extra day, with one day more, with a bonus 24 hours, with a true extra Leap Year Day? Imagine you had 24 hours with no one else’s expectations, schedules, or any responsibilities. What would you do?
Would you rest your body, mind, and soul, and pamper yourself, weary from life and all its demands? Would you work on something that is your heart’s passion, losing all track of time because you are fully immersed in what gives your soul joy? Would you spend every moment with someone dear to you, in conversation or just companionship, having that time to simply be with them that you never get because of life’s crazy pace? Would you lose yourself in a great book? Would you organize every space and thing in your home, clean out the old to prepare for a fresh start? These are some of the things that came to my mind. If I had 24 hours I would…
But you have 24 hours. Every day. Granted, it’s NOT free of commitments, work, and demands, but you get the same allotment every day. So I challenge myself here, what am I spending my precious days on, this time I will never get back? If I would do XYZ with 24 free hours, why aren’t I spending my days (and therefore my life) doing it right now? If a relationship is important, I need to make it a priority, even if it just means shooting a quick text or email to the person I love. If my heart’s passion is important, why don’t I carve out time to sit and write every day? If caring for my body is important, why wouldn’t I do that in order to continue to make the most of my health? If growing in my relationship with God is important to me, why wouldn’t I set aside even some small time every day to sit with Him and be quiet?
Simple answer: the tyranny of the urgent often trumps the truly important in our lives. I’m as guilty as anyone else of this. This condition of being bossed around by the urgent things in life conspires with the trivialities that can crowd every open second, the sheer noise of technology that permeates our society and every inch of our homes (mine included). And so our days are not spent as we want our lives to be spent.
A movie scene shimmers in the back of my mind as I ruminate on these things. Robin Williams leaning into a group of fresh faced 1950’s prep school boys looking at pictures of the past, whispering “Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys!” This still gives me chills. He's urging his young students to realize that today is the only guarantee we have, truly, and this sentiment, this Carpe Diem clarion, resonated deeply with my college student heart when I first saw the film in theaters. (Disclaimer: if you have negative opinions of Dead Poet’s Society, you are free as an American citizen to have them, but please don’t share them with me as that’s what inspired me to be an English teacher. Please and thank you). Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, urged his students to truly live life to the fullest, referencing one of my favorite quotes from Walden by Henry David Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”
Focusing on the important over the urgent is hard. Really hard. Urgent is loud and shiny and often necessary, but it shouldn’t completely rule our lives. If I let days, weeks, years slip by, what will I regret? What will I feel as though I missed? I am determined not to live a life of regret and am working hard to focus on what I can do, small steps every day, to use my 24 hours fully, to NOT get to death only to discover I haven’t lived. If we want to live deeply, as we would in that “extra day” promise of leap year, we must choose to do so in the here and now. It is intentional and daily, this choice. I’m getting better at some of these things. Do I still watch reruns of The Good Wife while knitting on the couch? Yep. Is that "sucking the marrow out of life?" Nope. But I am getting better at choosing, “putting to rout all that is not life,” filling this limited precious time, this 24 hours I get every day with the things that matter most.
I invite you to join me in Taking the Leap, in choosing the journey to seizing the day, and intentionally living to the full.
“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” -Annie Dillard
“Teach us to realize the brevity of life that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12, NLT