We've been talking about books quite a bit, and the one I just finished
reading devouring is called Margin, by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. It's been sitting in my to-be-read pile for 2 1/2 years, but after hitting a wall in every way I could this summer, I decided it was time. Beyond time.
Obviously non-fiction, the entire premise of the book is that most 21st century Americans are living lives that have no margin in them. The more we roll along on the road of progress, the less margin our lives have. As the author put it,
The American definition of happiness is, after all, 'more than I have now". (but) we must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal.
'Progress' is inevitable; it's also expensive when you count the fall-out in our personal lives.
It's been awhile, but years back, we went to a Civil war museum. What still remains with me was the letters written by soldiers that were on display. The writing was beautiful but more striking was how the paper was used.
Almost every letter was covered with handwriting that filled the paper one direction, then it was clear the writer had turned the paper upside down and used all the blank lines left. Often they had filled the side, top and bottom margins too, because paper was so hard to come by.
There were no empty margins. No blank spaces. Brilliant really, very resourceful, for the shortage they faced, but I don't want to live that way. I want the 'letters' I write every day - not on paper, but rather on my heart, and the hearts of those I hold dear, to be easily read. I want to live a life that feels like it is a gift to be savored, and not a constant emergency to get through.
I have a friend who is in the habit of saying, 'if I can just pull it off', referring to whatever project or event she is currently dealing with.
But I don't want to 'pull off' life. I want to, as much as possible, take long, slow sips that are unrushed, uncluttered, and filled with what truly matters, and not what doesn't. Oh, there's the tug - it's so hard, in the moment, to see the difference.
Way too many times I haven't. Darn that perfect hindsight - it's often only in looking back that I see clearly.
How I wish I could go back and relive a few days when we were raising our kids. The ones that come to mind the most often?
- Planning our kids' weddings, and their wedding day. Oh, to go back and be in the room with my daughter as she tried on wedding gowns. Or to sit in that pew and see our son standing, waiting for his bride, or our daughters, on their father's arm, coming up the aisle. So much of the beauty of those events was missed because I spent time and energy worrying over paying for it all, or fussing over silly details that didn't really matter much, or shouldn't have.
- A sandbox in the back yard, full of scrawny kids and tonka trucks and one big, yellow dog, digging for all its might.
- Christmas mornings, when I woke up too early, to find little people standing inches from my face, asking if we could please get up and go downstairs? So much of holiday planning back then was a burden, when it should have been treasured, for those days pass quickly and never return to be relived.
- Kids coming in the front door after a day of school, plopping down their backpack and climbing up on the kitchen counter to eat a snack and tell me what had happened that day.
- Rocking babies, bath time, stories at bedtime with all three snuggled around me, then prayers and kisses goodnight. Mercy but I miss that.
- Sitting in stands cheering for them, when they were winning, and more so when they weren't.
Way too many of those days I rushed through, to get the next thing done. Thinking it was so important, or necessary, when likely it was neither. I hurried through the truly important for things and stuff and people who weren't, or shouldn't have been, a priority. I crammed the days full to the brim, writing all over the paper of my life so that much felt rushed. I regret that.
The author says,
Our great-grandparents did not go around complaining about how 'stressed' they were. As a matter of fact, no one talked much about stress until at least the 1950s. ... now every American knows about stress.
We all get 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year (except 2016 is Leap Year so an extra day!). The President of the United States doesn't get a single extra day or hour than I do, or you do. Nor does the richest person in the world. Or the most famous. We all get a blank sheet of paper every day, fresh and white and full of possibilities. I get to decide whether to write a letter that covers the page every single direction, so that the beauty of the words on it is lost in the shuffle of it all. Or it can look more like this:
Not only is there margin, but the words are beautiful. I want something more like this. Already I'm starting to feel the push, the flyers coming in the mail every day, the displays everywhere I go. There was literally a sign with the countdown to Christmas displayed at the front of Walmart this week. 39 and counting.... not only do I not want to go crazy this time of year, cram way too much into what should be a wonderful time of year, but I want to go into the New Year with a life that has margin.
"Today we must begin valuing the things God values and cease valuing those things of no value to him. Today we must agree that our choices do make a difference - whether we live without margin, work two jobs, build an expensive house, overload a friend, don't spend time with our children. Today let's decide to invest in a relationship, to encourage someone. Today decide to love, the sacrificial-service kind of love. Today forgive someone who should have been forgiven long ago. Today light one candle and stop cursing the darkness."
This is a tough time of year to be the fish swimming upstream, against the current. I get that. I've just done the other way for so many years, I'm not willing to do it anymore. I'm not willing to put up three trees, enjoying none. Or decorate the mantle because it's on my to-do list, when what I really want to do is phone a friend, or sit and knit, or talk to my husband uninterrupted by texts. I don't need a perfectly decorated house, a big circle of friends, a life that tweets or Facebooks or Instagrams or Pinterests well. I need a life that has margin, so I can live it well.
If you feel similarly inclined, but are struggling to get there, this is a great read. Have someone buy it for your stocking. Even if you're caught in the current right now, put it on your list for January 1 while the men are in football overdose. It'd be a great to start 2016 with some margin around the pages of life, wouldn't it?