Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Rich in Time

"An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth." ~Bonnie Friedman

I am obsessed with time. Spending time. Saving time. Wasting time. The perception of time. The concepts of aging and growing and changing over time. And of course, the ultimate time question - how much time do we have left? Time is the only asset we ever truly own because we determine its value and worth.

The aspect of time that intrigues me the most is one I first learned in my college economics classes - leverage. How do I use my time as wisely as possible to do the most good I can? How do I get the maximum impact with the minimum amount time? The odd unintended blessing of losing a parent so young is that I stare my mortality in the face every day. If I want to accomplish everything I want to do, I have to utilize the idea of leverage. Our days pass too quickly, our time is too precious, to start every new idea from scratch.

The point Bonnie Friedman raises in her quote is one that leaves me scratching my head. I am always in a hurry - walking down the street, getting my errands done, eating, writing. I zip through as fast as possible so I can get on to what's next. Where I struggle is how to enjoy each activity without thinking about what's next? How can I be in the moment, this moment, every moment, without causing myself unintended stress from hurrying from point A to point B and back again?

My fear is that I'm missing out. I was recently telling my sister, Weez, that I really wanted to do something and her immediate response was, "let's face it: if you decide you're really going to do something, you make it happen." At that point my question to myself was, "at what cost?" The trouble that over-committers like me face is this: how do I say no without feeling guilty? When there are so many people out there who need what we all have to offer, when I see so many ways for me to make things better, how do I decide this thing is important and needs my attention and that one does not?

The education program I'm working on has actually helped me begin to find some answers to these questions. I've been kicking around this idea, writing drafts of the white paper, meeting with potential partners, and asking for honest feedback on the idea from friends and colleagues since April. And every time I sit down to work on it, every time the idea even crosses my mind, I get a little jolt of energy and excitement that keeps on growing. The more I work on it, the more alive I feel. I'm so certain I can make a difference in this way, with this curriculum, that there isn't any way that I can conceive of turning back now. I feel about this project the way that I feel about my writing - it's becoming a very integral part of who I am.

And maybe that's the trick. Maybe all our hurrying is caused by our desire to find where we belong. Once we find it, we can enjoy this wealth of unhurried time, as Bonnie Friedman suggests, because there is no 'next'. We're here, where we always wanted to be.

My dad was a clinical psychologist and his work was his life. He never felt hurried in his office, at his great mahogany desk surrounded by his books and papers and patients. He loved his studies in that field more than he loved anything. It may have been his only love now that I think of it. In some way, I sort of feel like this education project is helping me understand him, helping me see why his work was so important to him.

His last job before leaving the work force was as a school psychologist in Harlem. I always wondered why he was so eager to hop on a train that took him to the big City to help other kids while my mother was left to work and raise us on her own. Now that I've spent some time in public schools in New York, I understand. The problems and challenges are so great, and the opportunity to do something good in that environment is immense. The impact is immediate. Like him, I keep thinking about those tiny faces and those solemn eyes who wanted assurances that I would be back to see them again. He couldn't let them down. I can't either.

Though he's been gone now 17 years, perhaps there is a way for me to still get to know him. Perhaps this drive to do some good in the public schools of New York City is much more than just my way of giving back. And maybe this is some kind of calling that's coming from afar, some way to continue work, albeit in a different vein, that was begun so many years ago by my dad and the many people who were doing this work long before him. It's a way to leverage the work of the past to create brighter futures, my own and the kids I hope to help. No hurrying required, and much wealth to gain.

The photo above can be found here.

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