Thursday, December 24, 2009


There are times in our lives when skillful living depends on knowing, truly knowing, what time it is. I have a friend named Jim. Jim is a successful businessman who retired early and divides his time with his wife living in Colorado and New York. I have never spent time with Jim in either of those places. In fact, I’ve never spent time with Jim in the Unites States. Jim and I met through spiritual study/hiking trips led by a rabbi with whom we both study. Over the course of an eight-year span, Jim and I joined trips that took us hiking and studying in the Swiss Alps, the Italian Dolomite's and Andalusia, Spain.

Many times, on our hikes, Jim and I would talk about writing a book together about how the wise words hikers say about trekking were really words for living. For example, we’d hear a fellow hiker say, “Sometimes you have to look up and assess if you are on the right path.” Or, “My goal was to get to the summit, but now I realize that the beauty was in each step.” And, “The unexpected views as your travel along take your breath away, but you have to remember to stop and look up.” We never did write that book, but we had great fun with these pearls of wisdom and we shared wonderful times of abundance together: in spirit, laughter, meals and community.

Two months ago, the rabbi told me that Jim was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I hadn’t talked to him since we were together in Spain, three years ago. The rabbi told me that he wants to hear from the people in his life. “Send him an email,” he advised.

I had planned to.

Later that week, I searched through my email contact list, and realized that I didn’t have his email. I made a mental note to ask a mutual friend, or the rabbi, for his email address.

I didn’t follow through.

I thought about Jim, he was on my mind and in my heart, but I didn’t send that email.

“I have time,” I thought. I’ll do it soon…

After the problems left on my doorstep were solved, the errands were run, when life slows down…

I didn’t know what time it was.

How many of us put off what needs to be attended to now…in this moment. I think we see it all the time:

“I’ll take the dance class I’ve always wanted to take when I lose weight…”
“When I’m thin, I’ll let myself become involved in a relationship…”
“When my daughter gets into preschool, I’ll sign up for that painting class…”
“When my son gets into college, I’ll start my novel…”
“I’ll start living the life I truly want next month, next season, next year…”

Skillful living means being mindful of what time it is in our lives, and then acting from a place of wisdom. Sometimes you get a second chance, sometimes you don’t.

Jim died yesterday morning, before I sent him that email.

I missed what time it was.

If you look at the universe, we are a second, a split second. But our lives are part of that universe, and that second holds everything. If we understand that second, if we understand how important it is to pay attention to the present, to see clearly, we will understand what time it is in our lives, and we will act.

In the physical sense, attuned eating allows you to feed yourself in a consistent and loving manner. In a spiritual sense, attuned living allows you to pay attention to the world around you and to respond in a way that is life affirming and sustaining.

We don’t do it perfectly. Sometimes we miss the cues, or we’re off the mark in our response. Those are the times we need to be open to and learn from.

I wish I responded differently. I wish I knew what time it truly was…time to stop, and to be present with Jim in his dying. Now, it is time to remember Jim and to honor him by working toward living more in the present, living a life more in attunement.

We are all on a hike; our lives are a journey. May this New Year bring us the wisdom to live life fully, to be present to what is right in front of us, and to act from a place of both wisdom and compassion…by knowing, truly knowing, what time it is.”


1 comment:

shirley k said...

What a piognant and heart breaking essay. The analogy to hiking and the path of life is breath taking. If Jim can see this I am sure he would savor every thoughtful word you have written.
In Peace, S