Slowing down to listen
I have spent a lifetime learning to do things faster. Early in life I decided I not only wanted a child, I wanted a career as well. Raising kids while going to college and trying to support the whole venture on my own was a race against time. I was determined to have it all and to make it work and I found faster and more efficient ways of doing things. I found better and faster ways to manage my time at work and I taught the kids to raise themselves. I managed everything right down to which traffic lane I took to the office. I looked for the fastest lane of traffic at the right time to get to work in the shortest period of time. If I could shave thirty seconds off my time in the morning, it gave me thirty more seconds to sleep. I slept hard so I would be ready again for the race when it picked up the next day. I did manage to have a social life, but I squeezed it in between my more important obligations; during times when I should have been working or when I could have spent more time with the kids. When I was with friends, I worried about the kids. When I was with the kids I worried about school and work. When I was at work I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else but at work.
Racing became a way of life for me. It kept me from facing the questions that kept coming up. I knew that I was unhappy with my job but what else could I do? I was raised to understand that work is hard. Life is not easy. Who was I to complain? I did good things for people in my work. I was reasonably good at it. I had spent years in college learning my profession. I had never really paid for the cost of college. Who was I to just quit? What would I do with my life if I quit? How would I earn my way in the world? I didn’t know how to do anything else. I could not just quit. How could I justify that? Most importantly, who would I be if I quit? So I continued to race against time. I didn’t want to stop to face those questions. I saw no answers and the less time I had to dwell on it the better.
Retirement was my light at the end of the tunnel. I could justify quitting when I retired. It was like getting into heaven. If I worked hard now, the payoff would come when I retired. I could relax and enjoy myself then. When I retired I would know what I wanted to do in my spare time. Everything would somehow, mysteriously be better then.
My body did not wait for me to retire. When the diagnosis came back that I had a tumor on my ovary, the race stopped. Time stopped. I stopped. Everything stopped. The shock of it caused me to hear a voice inside me that I had been ignoring or quieting in some way for a long time. I had to stop the race, not just slow it down. I had to stop it entirely. I had to listen. The word “cancer” woke me up from the frantic race I had been running. I started to listen. I listened hard. The first thing I heard loudly and clearly was that I needed to quit my job. I had to start over, cold turkey and figure this thing out. I heard in a way that I had not heard before that these are my last days. Is this the way I wanted to spend my last days? I was going to die. I may beat the cancer and I may live a long life but the number of days I have left was not the point. These ARE my last days.
It has been two years since my diagnosis. I continue to slow down and to listen. I practice staying out of the race and I search for answers. It is a process and I practice every day. Cancer gave me that. It keeps me on my toes. These are my last days. I ask the same question often: What do I want to do with my life right now? Then I listen for the answer. For now the answer is always the same: “just listen”.