For some time now, I’ve had a sense of urgency about life, and more specifically how I’m spending my time each day. Realizing that every day is precious, I’m haunted by this feeling that I’m running out of time. And I’ve scheduled my days around a notion that I need to make up for lost time.
I suspect this is a common mid-life experience, and one that gains energy as friends and loved ones die. I lost my father, who had a tremendous influence on my attitude and worldview, in 2020. His passing led me to examine my life and live with more intention. The loss of a similarly-aged friend this year intensified my efforts.
I’ve set ambitious goals and packed my days with related tasks and projects. I’ve intently eliminated distractions, time wasters and clutter. I’ve kept meticulous notes and lists to make sure I’m not losing sight of anything important.
But as Charlie was dying, much of this structure fell apart. It simply didn’t work in the context of being the caretaker of a dying dog.
At the time, my goals revolved around being away from home for much of the day. Not only did Charlie need me at home, I wanted to spend every last minute I could with him. My progress on my to-do list was falling hopelessly behind as his needs increased and took me away from planned tasks. The sense of order I had established gave way to the chaos of uncertainty and change inherent in impending death.
I helplessly looked for things to do to help him. I needed a list, a plan; but he needed something else. Finally, I realized the only thing to do was to enjoy him while letting him enjoy the rest of his life.
I loosened my grip. And let go of the leash, literally walking Charlie off-leash for the first time in his life. Those slow, ambling walks were divine and I treasured each one knowing it might be the last.
Having an old dog reminded me that every day is precious and brought more scrutiny to this sentiment which is often said but seldom lived. What I learned during Charlie’s last summer was how to better live by this belief with the understanding that it doesn’t require filling the day with activities or “highlight-reel” worthy experiences; it requires simply being in that moment, whatever it is, from walking slowly with an old dog to feeling the warmth of the sun on my face.
There is this sweet spot that lies somewhere within being productive and being present. I’ve found that too much productivity is a distraction in and of itself. Goals and lists take up precious time and can become beasts to be fed. The constant pursuit of something that hasn’t happened yet can detract from what we can actually experience today.
Goals are like leashes. They let us hold on to something important, to keep it close and safe. Held too tightly, they can be limiting while loosening our grip provides some freedom for things to unfold naturally. Dropping the leash doesn’t mean giving up on our goals; it means trusting that things will happen as they are supposed to.
I will always have goals and plans. I just want to be sure I’m driving them instead of them driving me. And that I’m able to appreciate my life today without it being diminished by the possibilities of a tomorrow that may never happen.
My goals for today are to feel the warmth of the sun on my face, the heartbeat of my dog beside me, and the security of the earth beneath me, fully immersed in the simplest moments of being alive. My lists will still be there tomorrow, whether I am or not.