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Friend's Life Gives Lesson in Taking Time to Really Live

A-photo-of-Colleen-NewquistWhen will I learn that taking time doesn’t steal from my day, but adds to it? It’s a lesson I repeat again and again ... and again. When will it stick?

For many mornings in a row, my husband, Michael, has been getting up when I do to feed the animals and let the dog out, which I really appreciate. It means I don’t feel quite as compelled to race with the clock. It also means that I shower, get dressed, and come downstairs pretty much ready to walk out the door, hop in the car, and start the commute to work.

This morning, though, Michael stayed in bed, and I was the one taking Charley out. And then I remembered what I’ve been missing, and how lovely that time of day is.

As I stood waiting for Charley to do his business, I saw a doe and her young spotted fawn in the sun-dappled woods. The mother was quietly leading the fawn away from us, but the baby stopped at the sight of Charley, her curiosity seemingly getting the better of her as she stared at this black and white creature, who was thankfully oblivious. Instincts eventually took over and she scampered down the hill.

Charley

Walking back to the front door, I spotted two different kinds of mushrooms sprouting in the yard and some fascinating fungi I didn't recognize, which reminded me of how long it has been since I spent any time digging in the dirt, getting close to the earth.

Mushroom1Mushroom2fungi

It was as if I was seeing things with fresh eyes, and, in a way, I suppose I was.

We’ve been away the past two long weekends at art fairs in Michigan and Minnesota, where Michael has enjoyed selling his art and cultivating contacts and fans. I had a great time being with him and living the gypsy life, but homebody that I am, any time away seems like forever.

I returned to blooming daylilies and herbs growing wildly in their pots, and to life winding down, in the form of my friend Tammy, who lays tethered to a hospital bed, ventilator helping her breathe, unable to speak, looking at me with eyes I’m not sure recognize me.

daylilies

This has been my long way of getting to that topic, I guess. Wanting to write about it – about her – and not knowing how to bring it up. So there it is. My friend, my former neighbor, the woman whose laughter rang out across our yards, whose sangria packed a wonderfully tasty punch, whose fastidious gardens put my weeding skills to shame, whose stuffed shells begged to be eaten immediately, no matter if we’d just had dinner – she’s 50 years old and at the end of her life.

I wish I could say it is cruel fate, and perhaps in a way it is. Knowing Tammy, I think it is mostly the result of fear. As Marianne Williamson says in A Return to Love, “We’re more afraid of life than we are of death.” The truth is, the Tammy I came to know and love exited a long time ago, hiding from life in a bottle.

I miss her. And I’m embracing her failing state as a wake up call. Choosing to not live fully – to face our fears, chase our dreams, celebrate the day, love to the best of our ability – is to choose a kind of death.

When I quit smoking many years ago, I got through the toughest cravings by taking sharp, quick breaths and boxing an imaginary enemy, repeating the mantra in my head, “Choose life. Choose life.”

I wish that Tammy could box her way out of this one, could come out swinging. But if she doesn’t, I’ll honor her in the way I know best – by letting my laughter ring out, by shoving the coffee table aside and dancing to Motown, by taking joy in my home, my art, my books, my gardens, my family, my friends. By living the way she longed to live, that she once lived, but for reasons I’ll never really know, no longer can.

I see Tammy as she was, lingering over a cup of coffee on the front porch, then meandering through the yard, coffee cup still in hand, pulling a random weed, deadheading spent flowers, nurturing the life around her, savoring the beauty she created.

She knew how to take time. Thinking of Tammy – as she was then, as she is now – maybe the lesson will finally stick.