Which is Important? Which is Urgent?

I sort of live by the philosophy that I should ‘run’ my daytimer. I should not let my daytimer ‘run’ me. And, because I want to live a life that’s self actualized, it is important to me to achieve a balance. Not all work. Some play. Some zone time. Some time to read and learn and challenge my thinking. Some time with my precious kids. Some time with my first husband. Time for clients. Time for community. Time for friends. Time for people that I care about.

If I was artistic, I’d draw a picture of myself with all these balls up in the air.

And, the secret to a successful life, I believe, is to be able to blend those activities without breathlessness. You know, where you do what’s important but nothing ever becomes urgent!

So imagine, if you will, a middle aged woman (that’s me!) somewhat overweight, standing out on her lawn (in the snow) with all these balls in the air. There’s a ball for each kid and now for two in-law kids. There’s a ball for husband. There are a couple of balls for community. There are many balls that represent my clients and my self employment work as well as the clients I write for. There is a ball for my Mom. Another for each of my sisters. One for my brother. One for me to get away on contemplative retreat. On and on and on. It’s a veritable cloudy sky up there. Then there are balls for friends. One of those balls is for Phyllis.

Phyllis and I shared a house when we both moved to Barrie. It was back in the early 70’s and our husbands were both in the television business. We’d found this great house to rent and talked our landlord into welcoming Phyllis and her husband into the apartment on the second floor.

We did a fair bit of socializing in those days because our husbands both worked at CKVR. They started their family in this house and two little girls joined us and our dog in our shared back yard. We also shared a wringer washer in the basement and a long clothesline from the stoop out back.

Phyllis was a stay-at-home mom. She made it work on a tiny income. No disposable diapers in those days. She walked everywhere with her kids and we watched them, watched them, watched them grow.

And then we moved away and bought our first house.
And then her husband moved to a different television station. Mine, too.

What was once a daily routine of visiting turned into bumping into each other now and then. But always in the back of my mind sat the ‘ball’ that was Phyllis. Quiet by nature, she earned her money by taking care of other people’s kids. Then when her own were in school, she got a job at the licence office and again, her quiet humour connected with me every year when I’d renew my permission to drive.

When she became a grandma, her battle with cancer began. It sprang up in one location. She fought it back. It showed up in another. She fought again. For more than a decade, Phyllis fought. And our contact continued to be happenstance.

A month ago, I stroked across a Wednesday morning and called her daughter to book time to go and visit. It was a ball long overdue and I felt guilty but exhilarated that I would spend time with an old friend. Cancer had claimed her voice box, so I began to prepare pictures to take with me for our visit. And I thought about a notepad so we could write back and forth.

It’s odd how once you identify something that matters, it takes on a life of its own.

Today is the day crossed out on my calendar as my Phyllis morning.

But the ball swooped down last week when Phyllis was taken into RVH with pneumonia. And when she died this weekend, the ball thunked against a steel floor, bouncing twice before coming to rest. And, so, instead of sharing pictures and memories this morning (Wednesday) I’m sitting at St Mary’s Church, thinking of the early 70’s and their orange Datsun and our brown Valiant and the heady experience of starting our married lives. I’m thinking about the vegetable garden we started. I thinking about the hundreds of hours she spent, hands bent in cold, pinning wet diapers onto a frozen clothesline, all the while hoping the babies upstairs were okay. I’m remembering the creation of Christmas gifts. I’m re-living the day her two-year-old stomped down the front stairs, suitcase in hand, because she was leaving home.

Where do I place the guilt of this ball that dropped? Why did it take so long to stroke through this morning to spend it with a person who lived an ordinary life, and raised wonderful women who are young mothers themselves? And will I be able to do better with another ball?

I hope so. Thank-you, Phyllis, for your battle hard fought. Thank you for your very-very-gentle laugh, for your ability to see humour all around you. Thank you for your patience.