Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rethinking one's use of time

I belong to a generation that sends Christmas cards. While in the Navy, my wife and I seldom wrote more than a few brief lines in the card, if even that much. Instead, we included a form letter describing to family and friends what we had done in the preceding twelve months. Several years into retirement, we stopped writing an annual missive. We wrote a personal note in each card, although we continued to use our printer to address the envelopes.
This year, our printer could not accommodate the size of the envelopes that came with our Christmas cards. Moreover, I wanted to practice my penmanship. Never very good, my neuropathy (a side effect of the chemo) has significantly degraded my penmanship. Unable to pursue the activities with which I had planned to fill my life in Hawaii (see the prior Ethical Musings' post for details), I had time over several days to address the envelopes.
What initially felt very tedious became an opportunity for fondly remembering shared experiences and people who, at least at one time if not still, had been important to me. I began wondering to what extent the slow food movement should expand into a slow life movement, encouraging the savoring of every task and moment.
When the envelopes were complete, I began to write the cards. My wife helped some, but my cancer and other physical problems have resulted in her taking on a disproportionate share of life's chores. So I resolved to write a majority of our Christmas cards (my wife prefers to write a few of them, especially to her family of origin and friends).
I worked on the cards slowly – my penmanship became worse when I tried to write too fast. In addition to a second opportunity to reflect on relationships that had been or still are important to me, writing the cards entailed repeatedly retelling the story of my cancer and how it had changed our lives. Story is powerful, a truth important in Hawaiian culture and a life lesson that I learned long ago. But writing the cards made that truth personal and transformative. In the retelling, my acceptance lack of control over my cancer and my life grew. Writing the cards became a therapeutic exercise.
In working slowly on the cards, I also wondered how often I had shortchanged myself with respect to life's important aspects, some of which are accessible only through unhurried reflection and living. Perhaps quality of life is more precious than quantity of life. That assessment certainly applies to the hospice and assisted suicide movements (these are two separate although sometimes overlapping movements intended to allow people to die with dignity). Admittedly, this assessment of the importance of quality over quantity of life flies in the face of how a huge number of Americans live and how I have lived much of life.

For Christians, Advent is the season of preparation for commemorating Jesus' birth. Sadly, Advent too often becomes a source of stress as individuals struggle to find time to send Christmas greetings, buy gifts, decorate, and party. This year, I have discovered the joy and gift of slow living: remembering relationships, growing in my acceptance of things over which I have no control, and discovering anew the importance of savoring the quality rather than the quantity of one's life. I hope that Advent will bring you similar gifts. My life in 2017 will not be what I had long hoped, but it will be good and full of God's gracious gifts.

2 comments:

Bryan Link Hunt said...

What a beautiful musing. It reminded me of sitting on the floor next to my mother as she wrote Christmas cards and told my sister and me about the people she was writing to -- if we had met them, where they lived, if they had children our ages. I hadn't thought of those days in years. It was a slower time, and in some ways, a more reflective time.

Ted said...

Wonderfully written about life. We seldom have these thoughts until it is too late. I wish you had several months of total remission and quality of life to enjoy the things you now reflect on and do them. It is hard to find a movement to talk about what medical advances can do for you and how it enhances or reduces the quality of life and living. On a domestic level, we never understood the ramifications of technology and how it impacts the reduction of workers required. Please keep us informed on the trials and reflections of living with your disease.