There’s No Present Like the Time

My new alarm clock is the bomb diggity. I love how the sound fills the room, and the fact that I can use it as a speaker phone as long as I have my iPhone or iPad attached by Bluetooth. In fact, as long as my iPad is connected to Wi-Fi, everything that goes to my phone goes to it automatically. For some people, this would be a dealbreaker. For me, it makes it where if I leave one or the other upstairs, I do not have to make a mad dash from the porch to my room trying to catch the phone before it stops ringing. The only thing that I need to change about it is how it wakes me up. I have it set to FM radio, because I used to like to wake up to NPR. Now I realize that with the amount of sleeping medication I take, NPR doesn’t cut through my dreams easily enough to actually wake up when it goes off. Sometimes, I am alert enough to catch it on the first try. Some days, I’m just not. The soothing voices of the commentators are more likely to make me sleep deeper. 🙂

I should change my alarm clock to Bluetooth and set it to the same ring my phone makes. There is no snooze button on that. With my ringtone, I tend to shake awake immediately (another gift from my father passed on genetically) because I don’t know who’s on the other end of the line. It’s a gift because pastors often get very serious calls in the middle of the night, and the last thing my father wanted in a parishioner’s time of need was for people to think that they woke him up. They had enough to worry about, you know?

I feel the same way. I do not want any of my parishioners to apologize for waking me up as if it’s inconvenience to take their call in the middle of the night when their son has just died. I come from a long line of jobs where I’ve said, “this is Leslie Lanagan, how may I help you?” Being a pastor is not really that different, except the calls you take are rarely scheduling an appointment at 3:00 AM. If someone calls in the middle of the night, it’s never something good.

Someone has died, someone has been rushed to the emergency room, someone has been arrested, someone needs to go to the bedside and administer last prayers. In the Methodist church, there are no true “last rites,” but in the hours of someone passing away, they need their pastor more than ever…. or perhaps the family is Methodist now, but they come from a church where there *are* last rites and want them to be administered anyway. When that happens, you don’t want the chaplain on duty. You want the person that has been the everpresentlovingkindness that you’ve been every Sunday since they started attending.

The phrase “there’s no present like the time” comes from a jeweler’s commercial whose name I now forget, but it sticks with me all the time.  There are other commercials that stick out almost as clearly, like when PBS came up with “the channel that changes you.” That first one, tho……

What better present could you give anyone but your time? I am at the space in my life where I do not need more material things. I have pared down to the basic essentials. If you want to give me a gift, the best thing you could offer is cooking for me or taking me out to dinner just to look at you, face to face… perhaps reaching across the table to touch my hand or afterward, giving me a sincere hug and kiss on the cheek. Pri-Diddy had to reschedule from Tuesday to Friday, so my anticipation of seeing her has had a chance to build. She is not giving me anything but her presence, but it is worth more than anything she could give. I hope she feels the same way about me, because Prianka is one of the people who has crossed over into that friend in which I can confide anything without judgment. Like Bryn and Argo, we’ve not been afraid to delve into the deepest parts of ourselves in order to move forward. Though Pri-Diddy is younger, she has this way about her that makes me think she was an Indigo child, wise beyond her years. My guru in a tiny body, born in the same hospital where Mother Theresa worked in Calcutta. She shows me YouTube videos of the gurus she likes, and is impressed that I worked at the Graduate School of Social Work at the same time Brene Brown attended. But, of course, then she was not Brene Brown, Trademark. She was just one of the students in which I had to help with her computer problems, just like everyone else running to complete a paper.

I take pride in her success, not because I was the one that got her through grad school, but because I take pride in all of “my students” that have gone on to do great things. Also, because I helped the administration as well, the director said that I had an open invitation to attend. WOW it was a big mistake to leave for Alexandria, but I learned lessons that couldn’t have been learned any other way. I was young and STUPID in love with my girlfriend, and there was no way I wanted her to move without me. Although looking back at my life, I should have let her. I got really sick with depression being A) far from home and missing school and 2) not having the right medicines so that I went from a little bit depressed to completely batshit crazy in no time at all. Although, truth be told, I did not miss class as much as I missed working at UH. My bosses were kind and supportive in a way that I haven’t had since… except for Randy, who tried to take me under his wing and I couldn’t lean into that pure, white, professional love because of the hurricane swirling at home.

I did find a church, though, and that helped mightily. Kathleen and I both loved it, and invested to the point that we helped install the tile labyrinth in the floor and Kathleen joined Brian’s “Make Your Own Stained Glass” class. It turned out beautifully, and it hung in our bathroom window so it could get the most sun.

In the end, though, it did not help my depression enough, and after 18 months in Alexandria, we’d both had enough of each other. We stopped giving each other the present of time. Kathleen joined a softball team and when I went to support her, she made a point of touching men intimately, like brushing their hair out of their faces a little too slowly right in front of me so she could make it clear that her intentions with me were over. We broke up in August or September, and by October she’d met the man she was going to marry.

It gutted me like a fish, and my dad came to our townhouse when Kathleen wasn’t home and just said, “leave all the furniture, get the small things you want to take, and let’s go home.” He did all the driving as we pushed through from DC to Houston, drinking coffee and listening to Tony Robbins, whom I’ve come to love.

I don’t care what you think of him. In my need, what he gave me was priceless, which is the ability to build myself up. The thing he said that gave me the most pause is that sometimes we are frozen with the paralysis of analysis, and that sums me up to a great degree. Although, there was another truly great line that I carry with me as well, which is that we learn more when we’re pondering rather than partying.

That has been true for me in the breakup with Dana as well. We did a lot of partying when we should have been pondering, and that was a theme we carried through our relationship a lot. It was so much easier to get along on a best friend/partying/sex level than it ever was to truly connect with each other down to our souls. When I started to peel back my own layers, and this is solely my opinion, she wasn’t ready to peel back hers. It may not be her story, but it is mine. The deeper I delved into myself, the more I wanted to know about her. We were handfasted in a truly shitty club in terms of our childhood, and I wanted to know every detail, some of which she could talk about, and some she couldn’t because she didn’t know the answers herself.

It was at that time we began to pull away from each other, because I didn’t act the same. In fact, she made the point of telling me that my eyes didn’t look like home anymore, and even though I excused myself to go to bed not to up the ante, it was a direct shot into my soul, an arrow I have not extracted and won’t for a long time. I didn’t want to know why she felt that way. I just went to bed and cried myself to sleep, trying to self-soothe and tell myself I was worthy of love, even if it wasn’t hers.

I gave thanks for our separate bedrooms, because even though we were still married and dedicated to each other, we had different processes in terms of trying to fall asleep. Many people thought that was the beginning of the end, and told me so. I told them to shut that down, because it actually made our relationship better. We liked having our own huge amounts of space in the house, and room for our electronics on the other side of the bed. It seems crazy, but it worked. Having the space to spread out made us sleep better and because of it, fights didn’t seem so important the next day. Besides, at the end of the day we were too tired for sex, anyway, so the naughty neighbor complex was probably the best thing ever, in my opinion, anyway. For us, there was something intimate about looking at each other, holding each other, falling in love and connecting in sunlight and energy rather than the part of the day where we just needed rest. We gave each other the present of our time when we were the most jazzed to see each other, and not when we were out of it with exhaustion.

One of the other reasons we liked separate bedrooms is that I tended to write to you at night, and I didn’t want to interrupt her sleep with the sound of my fingers clacking on the keys. At the time, I had a 17-inch Mac desktop in my room, and it was “my place” to wind down. On the other hand, it gave me too much privacy with Argo, where Dana wouldn’t read what I’d sent until the next day and couldn’t do anything about the fact that I was “over the line, Smokey. Mark it zero…….” I’d give anything to take that back, the ways in which I sent Argo things I shouldn’t, thinking I was brave and crazy and trying to push her away all in one breath. I loved her mind, AND I wanted to continue being married. Those two things battled in my brain to such an enormous degree that I told Argo it was getting harder and harder to look at myself in the mirror anymore. In love on the ground and “in love” in the cloud made it where I truly felt shame, deep and abiding. I could no longer give myself the gift of my own time, because if Dana didn’t want to be with me, it was nothing compared to how bad I didn’t want to be with me, either.

The difference is that Dana had a choice to leave me, and I didn’t. I had to sit with my pain and confusion and work it the fuck out. I had to dig myself out of the hole I’d dug, and it was deep enough to compare it to burying a body.

It was at about that time I saw a link to an article on Facebook that I read about a woman who saw an empty grave at a cemetery and jumped into it, laying down on the bare earth. She talked about feeling death, feeling where she would go when she died, and how it made her less afraid of dealing with her own problems because she dug herself out of the earth physically, which changed her mindset completely. She’d laid there long enough to really see what was important and what was not, and arose a different person than the one she was when she’d just lay there, alone in her own thoughts and shortcomings.

In that article, she gave me the present of her time, which allowed me to look at things much more deeply than I ever had before. I started to forgive myself. I started to feel my own worth. I started to realize what was important to me and what wasn’t.

The most important thing, to me, became mending my relationship with Argo because I’d intentionally caused her to run away, treated her like crap so she would. I made my narrative so angry, when in reality it would have meant more to me than anything in the world to have the present of her time, if only for a few minutes.

In her last missive, she used words like probably and maybe rather than always and never, tears running down my face in astonishment because Good Friday had become Easter once again. Even if nothing ever happens in the future, because we both want peace without and within, I stood speechless in front of her, laid bare by her grace. It took her time to write that e-mail, a present of time so great that it is the e-mail I keep in my Kindle case and lean on it when I feel unworthy and unloved.

I walk taller with our resolution and the future doesn’t matter. What matters is that in my need for peace, she gave it to me with her whole heart. In the moment, it felt like a sacrAMENt, a blessing to move forward with grace and mercy for others. There is nothing so sacred to me than passing those presents along.

My invitation to you is to think about this: there’s no time like the present to make the present your time. What are you going to do with it? What relationships are you going to heal? What present of time are you going to give yourself?

Amen.

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