Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.
M. Scott Peck
I first heard it would be Qingming Jie (清明节) this week through various online pen pals in Taiwan. I was grateful to be reminded of the upcoming holiday because holidays are a great “excuse” to connect with family. Yesterday, April 5th, 2019, I spent the entire day with my father. We met up with his siblings (my uncles and aunts) at Memory Slope in the Forest Lawn Cemetery where my grandparents are buried. I looked around at the almost endless hills of gravestones. Most of them had no flowers or any sign that anyone had come to visit for many years. Seeing this, I understood why the Chinese have the tradition to visit their ancestors once a year on this day. I saw the names of the eternal neighbors of my grandparents. A woman named Daisy Abbas was buried on their right and a man named John Murray was buried on their left. Neither of them had been visited in a long time. It appeared that Mr. Murray had no children. His marker proclaimed he was a beloved uncle. Ms. Abbas had children, but there was no sign of them any where. We needed help with picking up a flower mount that was stuck in the mud where my grandfather is buried because we wanted to place flowers in it and after what seemed like an eternity of trying to pull it up, my aunt asked a maintenance worker nearby for some help. The maintenance worker, a Latino man with hair white from age, had a long tool designed to extract flower mounts from mud and completed the task very quickly. He then got a bottle of oil which he used to shine the gravestones of my grandparents. As he polished their gravestones, my family pulled out cash from their wallets to tip the man and joked in Chinese that we should ask him why he didn’t also polish the gravestones of the neighbors, Mr. Murray and Ms. Abbas.
Do you seize opportunities to spend time with people you care about but don’t see often? Or do you work through the holidays, weddings, birthdays, funerals and other occasions? The gravestones neglected by the families who paid so much to have them engraved and placed over the graves of their departed remind me of all of the elderly people whom never or rarely have visitors. Some of them live in homes we call: nursing homes, hospice, convalescence, retirement community…. Some of them live alone while others live with their family but may or may not be appreciated or “seen.” I hope you find the time to visit your loved ones when they are alive because we never know which day is our last. I saw so many gravestones yesterday. Each person died at a different age.
Did you know that the most common day of the week to commit suicide is Monday and the most common day and time of the week to die from a car crash or heart attack is on Monday at 9AM? I attended a speech contest last Saturday and the first place winner asked the audience why people die on the way to jobs they hate when the most common deathbed regret is to have worked so hard and noted that people don’t die on vacation or while doing things they love nearly as often in his speech entitled Follow Your Yellow Brick Road.
On February 14, 2017, my mother found out she had breast cancer. The time I took off from work to spend with her during her treatments were some of the best times I had with her because it is rare that I see her set aside her work. She’s now completed her treatments and working harder than ever and never takes a day off. Gone are the days when we would spend time just me and her enjoying a garden, walking the piers or breathing in on a mountain hike. Am I really saying I liked it when my mother was sick because I got to spend time with her? Does that seem selfish?
That same month my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I left my last teaching job. I wish I had really taken in every moment on the job and cherished it instead of stressing out over mindless tasks because I really loved that job and never thought I would be away from teaching for so long. I’ve been toying with the idea of returning to teaching lately, but I know it will never be same. I finally had a boss who treated me so kindly from 2015 to 2016. Then, he left and was replaced by a woman who as of November, is in jail for the murder of a young woman. I was telling a friend of mine, another teacher, about this recent development: this principal incarcerated for drinking and driving. My former coworkers tell me she had been coming to work under the influence. They tell me how lucky I am to have left. I can’t help but notice that most of them are still working there even as they tell me this as if to live vicariously through me. If people had reported her behavior, would her family and the family of the woman who was killed in the car accident have been spared of pain? “That explains a lot,” I say to my friend about my boss coming to work under the influence, though I wasn’t sure if it really explained anything. “It’s the norm,” he replies as he appropriates his usual advice to me to avoid “rocking the boat” …. to not say anything if I see anything inappropriate at any new jobs I obtain. Everything in my heart screams at me not to listen to him, though I know what he’s saying is somewhat true and it’s how people keep their jobs. If that’s “the norm” and playing the politics and working in the system means I have to give up my ethics, maybe I don’t want to work for anyone else any more.
I’m at a cross road. I’ve been interviewing for upcoming teaching positions because I want to go back and pay off my student loans quickly. I think I am a terrible liar and interviewees can see right through me. My best friend, my work out buddy and my boyfriend all ascribe to the “follow your passion” school of thought and think I should just work on my projects instead of returning to teaching. I wonder if I aligned my life with these three people with this philosophy consciously or subconsciously. My parents think the idea is foolish and that I need to “grow up” and go back to teaching full time.
One of the letters of recommendation I am currently using in my job hunt states, “I can safely say Ms. *&^% is one of the most dedicated teachers I’ve ever met. I can’t count how many times I’ve stayed late after school working, went to the staff lounge around 5’o clock to make copies, and ran into Ms. *&^% there doing the same thing. ” The letter goes on to describe various projects I worked on. Even though it was very kind of my colleague to write such a descriptive letter to support me, part of me doesn’t want anyone to know I did these things because I don’t want that to be me any more. I don’t want to stay at work all day and night. I used to think that if I won the super lotto that I never play, I’d stay in teaching but lately, I don’t feel this way at all.
If I had resources-time and money in the world, what would I do? What would you do???? Have you ever let yourself fantasize? I have read that even wealthy people do not think they are enough or that they have enough. Few people believe they have enough to just start enjoying life. People want to make enough to feel secure. We’re seeking security externally. Shouldn’t that feeling of equanimity come from within?
Currently, my plan is to work and pay off loans before or while I build at least one social enterprise. I have a deep desire to create and to solve problems. However, in the many friends whom I’ve come to know who are already in the position to make money by taking care of others while self-employed, I see that even when we have creativity and autonomy, we don’t always take care of ourselves or appreciate spending time with our loved ones. In fact, one of the main women who inspired and encouraged my current journey into social enterprise gave up her incredible non-profit housing and serving transitional foster youth because it was too much stress.
When I look at the lifestyles of the wonderful people who share my dream, I know the truth. Society is obsessed with money, even when it’s people who want to make money to take care of others. The motivation is different, but the end result is still the same. We aren’t taking care of ourselves. From childhood to adulthood, we’re taught to pursue money, whether it be for stability or for passion. We’re taught to study hard in school and then go to work. I think it’s all wrong. The first thing we learn shouldn’t be academics and then jump into work. I think the foundation is actually basic self-care: cooking, learning, eating healthy, exercise and meditation.
If I won the lotto, I’d become more familiar with self-care techniques for my own use and to teach others. Or, so I would like to think… But the truth is, my heroes are less people like this and are more people like this. Somehow, I will merge these differing parts of me and still pay the bills.