I like sitting near old trees. I’m sitting under one right now; I chose this table at the coffee shop because it’s right next to a thick and knotty trunk that extends up much taller than me. I patted its bark before I sat down.
“Hi old boy,” I thought. “Good morning.”
Buses pass by, cars too. I’m across from a fruit market and people head in with empty hands, then back out carrying bags piled high with corn and peaches and cherries. It’s summer.
Today my Trello lists are long, impossibly long, full of tasks and initiatives for work. Last night I lay awake for over an hour, guilt seeping into the mattress as I remembered texts and emails that I owe to friends. I am behind.
But then again, I’m never not behind.
There may have been a few times this year that I’ve felt ahead. Maybe a Friday afternoon, a proposal sent at 4:59, the acceptance that work is over for the week and I can let it go. A tiny reprieve from action. But for most of this year (and, indeed, most of my life) I have felt behind in the best way possible. If I am achieving things but somehow still behind, it means I have more path ahead, specific events and tasks that I want to make happen.
If you’re never not behind, doesn’t that mean you’re alive?
I run a small business three days a week. Since my husband has become an entrepreneur himself, he has started taking the kids on Tuesday mornings so that I have extra time and space for work.
It’s a tempting chunk of 3 hours. I could schedule many meetings during that time. I could bang out a few meaty things on the Trello lists.
But I save this time for writing. One morning a week, I take a long walk to a coffee shop and listen to music without words. I write, usually for work, but occasionally for other audiences. Sometimes I work on my memoir. Sometimes I work on a friend’s wedding, for a ceremony I’m officiating this fall. Today I’m writing this.
My writing cannot be scheduled in 30 minute increments between meetings. I have tried it and though I can squeeze a bit of water from the stone, it is bad, bad writing. More than that, it is absolutely no fun.
So I hold tight to this Tuesday time because a slow period of writing brings me joy. And if you’re not including fun or joy somehow on the calendar, then what are you doing? No really, what are you doing?
Last year I had brain surgery for a tumor that turned out benign. (Quick breath of gratitude.) From one moment to the next, my Trello lists and unread emails meant nothing. Productivity was irrelevant. The only thing I was focused on producing was my next breath.
There is no app for that.
I lived to tell the tale and my affinity for old trees has grown exponentially. Old trees have been around the block. Their branches grow in odd ways, towards the sun and in balance of everything around them. No tree looks designed or streamlined or organized from the outside.
But old trees have been productive on the inside. They have taken in what they need for growth and left the rest aside. They have known when to leave behind a branch or two. They have gone through many seasons of watching their beloved foliage dry up and fall to the ground.
One day I want to be an old tree. I want to be imperfectly grown, having failed and succeeded. I want to be lopsided but tall, to let restful shade fall from the wisdom I’ve earned. I want to have produced my own authentic fruit and left the rest of the garden production to others.
For as long as I can I want to stretch towards the sky, reaching for what is not yet there, impossibly and beautifully behind.