My neighbor’s dog ran away on Friday.
Two things you must know for this story to make any sense: 1.) I love my neighbor and 2.) I love this dog. That “love” part is important, because otherwise, there would be no story to tell. I may have heard about the incident a few days from now and forgotten about it five minutes later and wouldn’t be able to remember the details. What was it, again? His cat? Did the cat throw up or something? Oh, the dog got out. Oh. Glad it’s back.
But no. Because of the inclusion of that simple element of love, I spent three hours that morning–as did four more neighbors–scouring the streets of Mount Washington, where the inclines are so steep that some people refuse to even drive them.
While another neighbor watched my toddlers, I ran up and down the hills, looking behind dumpsters and in backyards, asking anyone I could find if they’d seen a little white dog running like she’d just been shot out of a cannon. I spent one of the hours just running through the woods, where I’d heard this particular breed likes to hang out, shouting her name with a leash in my hand.
This story has a happy ending–one of the other members of Team Oneida Street found her in someone’s yard and took her home. But the whole indicent had me thinking about ways we invest our most precious resource: our time.
When you’re looking for a pet–especially one who is lost and scared and cold and beloved–it seems totally reasonable to drop everything and look for them. Yet if you’d asked me at the beginning of this day if I had three hours to spend on a project, I’d have laughed and asked a series of rhetorical questions: Do you know what month it is? I’m a mom–who do you think makes holidays happen? And what do you think happens to nano novels that didn’t get finished in November?
Yet when someone needs you, the time is just there. And it didn’t just materialize out of thin air–it was there all along, just waiting to be managed and used. If we don’t have a plan for it, it will pass anyway, and that time will just be spent. You’ll never get it back. If we do have some sort of a mission for that time, it’s not simply spent. It’s invested.
We can’t control how other perceive our decisions, so when we invest our time into acts of love, they’re not always going to be appreciated as such. And I’m the first person to acknowledge that things don’t always go your way: But doing them anyway makes it so we can rest easy at night knowing the day wasn’t wasted. And knowing your time was spent meaningfully (even if not as “productively” as most people would classify it) can make you feel like you’re living your life well.
But lots of people I know are caring and loving and would jump at the chance to help at the first opportunity, no matter if they’d be appreciated for it or not. What about the days that pass without emergencies? Where do those hours go?
I often hear people say that they want to do something (read more, go outside more, work out, cook) but they “don’t have the time.” Mostly, I just nod and let them believe this lie they’re telling themselves, since they probably aren’t ready to hear the truth even though they need it. The truth is that they do have the time, they’re just not prioritizing what they say they want. Everyone can read one or two pages of a book at night before bed. Everyone can write 100 words a day. Everyone can do ten sit-ups in the morning. We don’t, because it’s easier to wait for inspiration to strike, for hours to magically reveal themselves, and for skill to embed itself into our nervous systems without having earned it through time invested.
This blog post, even though it’s only a few paragraphs, has taken me three days to write. My kids have been sick and haven’t been sleeping, and my husband’s been on a business trip this week, so the time I set aside for it has been invested, instead, on caring for them. But you’re still reading this. This post was important to me, and even though it took a little longer than it normally would have to write, I still made time to write it, little by little until it was done.
I don’t manage my time perfectly, and I’ve still got lots of room to grow. Recently, I took a hiatus from twitter, and I’ve become aware of all the time I’m used to spending there. This is not to say that twitter is bad in any way (on the contrary! I miss my friends! Facebook makes me feel gross and instagram is incredibly boring to me. So many smiling faces and sunrises and pictures of book covers next to pinecones and unlit candles. How do you non-twitizens even stand it out there in the alternative social universe?) But it has made me realize that I need to be more conscious of the time I’m spending on networking and educating myself on industry news, and make sure it’s those professional-sounding things I’m doing instead of just looking at baby Yoda memes.
This is a good time of year to remember that you live your life or it lives you. When something happens that demands you spring into action, the time seems to just appear, but it doesn’t really. It was there all along, waiting for you to do the things that make you happy.