Time is precious

It’s been quite a while since my last post, as I’ve been travelling all over the place trying to connect with relatives and friends whom I haven’t seen for a very long time. My journey took me through the UK, across North America and down to Jamaica, before heading back across the Atlantic to west Africa.

With a total of nine flights to make all the connections, I had been putting off some aspects of the trip since 2013. However, I decided that enough was enough and that some things just would not wait. Those things included a number of aging relatives in Toronto whom I hadn’t seen for over 10 years. One in particular, my step-grandfather, must be approaching 90 years of age and I needed to see him before being compelled to do so by bad news.

I had forgotten how much I like Canada, with its spotless, leafy neighbourhoods, juxtaposed with gleaming skyscrapers reaching into crisp, blue skies. I like to think of it as America without the excesses, raw edges and urban decay. Okay, so Toronto may not be as vibrant as New York but it has plenty to engage even the most demanding traveller. However, more than anything, this is where some of the most important people in my life reside.

Chief amongst them are my sister and niece, ‘my favourite girls’ as I like to call them. I see them often when we meet up in Jamaica but it was nice to spend lots of uninterrupted time with them, just hanging out. Most days involved tracking down one relative or the other, as I tried to see as many loved ones as I could. It was incredibly fulfilling to catch up with all the missing pieces of our lives, while I tried to recognise the children who had become adults in my absence.

The most difficult part was seeing how the passage of time had ravaged bodies, mental faculties and lifestyles. It reminded me of the hidden reason why I had not returned for so long. My previous visit, in 2004, was to attend the funeral of my beloved grandmother, the person who raised me alongside a phalanx of strong women. It was a devastating occasion, coming just a few years after my mother’s farewell in the same city. For many years, my visits were connected to illness and finally, death. So, after that second funeral, events in my life appeared to conspire against a return, or so I have chosen to believe. Having finally made the trip, it’s much easier to admit that I was running from the pain and heartache associated with those journeys.

The most uplifting aspect of this experience was the opportunity to reflect on how much some of these people meant to me, especially when I was growing up. And none more than Uncle Bob, who was married to my grandmother for over forty years. With my parents divorced since I was a baby and my father residing in Britain, Bob, as he was happy for us to call him, was the closest thing I had to a father figure in my life. A silent provider, he deferred wisely to the women in the household in almost every respect. However, I will be forever grateful to him for teaching me the value of work, integrity, accountability and remaining in control of your emotions.

At no more than nine or ten years old, my brother and I would help him to count thousands of dollars and reconcile the figures with his daily sales invoices. During the summer holidays, we would take turns being the assistant to his assistant, touring Kingston and the surrounding parishes on his sales rounds, and earning our first weekly wages. Those precious years shaped my attitude towards work and my desire for a career that involved travel. Also, by always working for my pocket money, I figured very early on that there was no such thing as a free lunch.

It felt quite strange for me to tower over this giant of a man, now slight and stooped but still as sharp as ever. Although he’s still not very talkative, we shared quality time and wonderful memories. On hearing my stories about life in Africa, he became quite misty-eyed, regretting how he had believed the media that all the continent had to offer was poverty, disease and aggression. It was a touching moment, as he was genuinely sad that a place I had found so enriching had passed him by and that he had no more time left to experience it.

That feeling stayed with me for a long time, as I tried to connect with other relatives who could barely remember who I was or found it hard to communicate when they did. Alzheimer’s, stroke and other debilitating illnesses have taken their toll on previously effective, articulate and engaging personalities. It’s a feeling that time is running out for so many people and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

One’s first instinct is to curse the passing of time and the diseases that trail in its wake. But then I stop and think; this is the same time that affords us the opportunity to do everything that’s possible in life. So, what to do? Surely, it’s more a matter of what we do with the time we are given, however long that is, and especially when we are still strong, mentally agile, active and mobile.

The issue of time came up once again when I visited with lifelong friends in Florida, in a fascinating conversation on the way to the airport. Jenny talked about wanting to travel more, apart from occasional trips home to Jamaica, but, like most people, work took precedence along with family commitments. We agreed that the whole idea of working all the time was to be able to afford a great life, which, of course, included travel. As I headed for the check-in counter and she headed back down the highway, my unanswered question hung in the air, “If you don’t find a way to start travelling soon, when exactly will you do it?”

As I settled into my seat, I asked myself another version of the same question, about all the things that I want to do. “When are you going to do it?” Did I want to have regrets later in life about all the things I failed to accomplish; all the places I never visited; the people I never saw before they died? I didn’t think so.

The point of this piece is simple. Time is precious. Once spent, it never returns. Once wasted, you can never recover it. Fill each moment with quality thoughts, quality time with loved ones and other ways to add value to your life and that of others. One day, when you are a little closer to the end than the beginning, you should be able to look back on a life well spent, satisfied that you took care of whatever is most important to you.

Remember, no matter what your age, this is your best time – to work, to build, to travel, to love, to nurture, to enjoy. In fact, it’s the only time you have.

27 thoughts on “Time is precious

  1. lovely description and instructive piece . Time is timeless and what we do with it can be timely for us. I will love to visit Canada someday !

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    1. Thanks Charles, I can always count on your support. I know that you would enjoy Canada – it’s extremely green, clean and orderly. In fact, Toronto makes the UK and US big cities look overcrowded and dirty. One day, you’ll be there.

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    1. David, I know you’re not much of a traveller but you used to be a voracious reader. My tip is to book time with yourself to do the things you love, even if it means heading up to Strawberry Hill for a couple of hours for coffee and a good book. You’ll thank yourself for it.

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  2. You know Michael, this one left me misty-eyed especially since I am at that point where there is less to come than has already gone. Please get that book of essays done …the sooner the better (from my point of view). And mi son, with all that travel, and to Jamaica at that, I still neva see yu!!! God guide you always.

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    1. Clover, I’m so disappointed, especially as you were top of my list, along with family. However, the time just ran away with me and I spent more time out of town than in. Luckily for David and I, we can catch up at the end of a long day when everyone else is tucked safely in bed! I’m working on the book and even taking a course on getting my books published. It’s coming. Much love xxx

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  3. Great Piece Michael. I too have some concerns about using my time wisely by doing the things I think about doing and enjoying a life and places I have in my mind. I also look on life and the demands it sometimes placed on me. Currently I am taking care of my mom who is going through dementia and sometimes it can be challenging. It brings out the patience I did not know I possess but somehow I find joy out of doing it. I believe it is not very often one is blessed to give back tangible and meaningfully to those who have most contributed to one development and survival. For this, I give God thanks.
    My mother was a tower of strength and is the Matriarch of my family. She was as tough as nail when you do wrong but was a sweet as anyone you would know when there is the need for it. I cannot think of anyone who could make me feel better when I was ill or feel comforted when I was down. She was the best parent I believe I could ever had. I got more lessons on life from her than I could ever get from my father.
    Now I take life a lot easier and worry less about things and think more how to find solution because worry do not solve anything. I looke on my mother and think of the best way to make the situation enjoyable. I do not wish to look back and regret anything concerning my mother.
    As for travelling, I definitely will work on making it a reality. Your insightful posts always wake up ideas, thoughts and concerns in my mind. Thanks Michael.

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    1. Thanks Taylor. Indeed it is a joy to give back to those who gave us so much. I’m so gratified that I’m able to make this impact with my posts – sometimes it’s amazing to me that these ramblings in my head take the form they do on paper. Just keep reaching for everything you dream about, as if it’s already yours, and it will surely come to pass. Blessings.

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  4. Mike, great piece! Reminds me of the saying “life is what happens while you’re making plans”. I am fast approaching that time when I need to stop living and start really living but as you indicated in your piece, its not that easy to get going. I recently picked up a book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens” for my son because I felt that he needed it to help him gain perspective on his life while away at college. I have started to read it myself, because I suddenly realized that I could probably benefit as much from it as I thought he could…It would be nice to clear my head of much of the clutter and angst that comes from living away from family and friends for the better part of thirty years and trying to make a decent living to provide for my family but its not that easy as I’m sure you are well aware. I am happy for you that you were able to make the leap and start reconnecting with your family as I’m sure you were able to get a renewed sense of purpose and peace. Hope all is well with you physically and mentally and please give my best to Paul.
    Lincoln

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    1. My brother, you have to be on my next tour! Either that or you meet me in Jamaica and we kill several birds with one stone. I don’t think we have time to keep putting these things off. Maybe we can’t do everything we want to do but we can do something, surely. Paul is really happy since he returned to Jamaica- his son is at Stella Maris and loving it. Come on bro, make a plan and let’s connect in 2016.

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  5. Wonderful Michael….your writing brings to mind a favorite quote of mine from the Dalai Lama on what surprised him most about humanity – ” Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his heath. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never lived “.

    Take care Michael and looking forward to your next posting. Howdy to Paul also!

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    1. Hi Peter, thanks very much. I love that quote too because it sums up the lives of all of us in the rat race for prosperity- something we rarely get to enjoy. Reminds me of the tourist who befriends a local fisherman and gets chatting. Having admired his fishing skills, he encourages him to get another boat, hire some guys, train them and get more boats until he has this successful fishing business. “Why would I do that,” says the fisherman, “I love it like this.”
      “Just think of all the money you could make before you retire.”
      “And then what?”
      “Well, you could come out here and fish every day.”
      Love to the family.

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  6. I am so thoroughly disappointed I missed you when you were in Toronto! I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again. I am also (half) embarrassed to say I live probably 10 minutes from your sister, though I believe I was out of town most of your visit. 😦 Next time!

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    1. Hi Dauna, it’s been a very long time! I saw Maggie at Auntie Clar’s birthday lunch. I guessed you were away or busy. 4-5 days wasn’t nearly enough time to catch up with everyone. Perhaps next time we should have a party to make it easier to get together as a family. I hope you enjoyed the post?

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  7. Michael, yet another triumph! Seeing the latest of your missive arrive in my inbox prompted me to read this one which I had left unread for a time when I was not so busy and could sit and give it my full attention – glad I did. It warmed my soul and at the same time left me feeling sad or I should say melancholic. It was lovely to hear about Bob, who I must confess I had forgotten about, probably due to him being the quiet one in the background – glad to hear he is alive and still sharp of wits. I am not sure if he will remember me, as its been an age, but when you speak to him again give him my love.

    I found myself identifying with so much of what you have written here, in your usual eloquent style. Having reached the grand old age of 62, I am one of those who is looking with some anxiety and sadness at how quickly time is passing, and am trying to visit all the places I can whilst I still have the mental and physical capacity to enjoy them to the fullest. I am certainly taking your advice and am trying to make sure I have nothing to regret NOT DOING when I inevitably reach that point where I am tucked up in front of the telly with my slopers and hot cocoa.

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    1. Hey Charles, good to hear from you. I know you identify because you’re always travelling, attending family reunions and generally enjoying life. That’s why I had to get to London for your 60th – you are my first friend in this world and have always had my back. Who can forget your kindness in 1981 when things were dire? Also, I admired your brave decision to follow your heart and change careers. It helped me to make tough decisions as well and, like you, I have no regrets. Bob still asks for you, believe it or not; your father was one of his true friends. Let’s catch up soon, either in London or on the rock!

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  8. Michael, another great article, which I really identified with as I recently reconnected with some of my extended family at a funeral. That feeling of needing to keep in touch more so I don’t just see them on sad occasions stayed with me all day. Especially as they’re the ‘aunts and uncles’ from when I was growing up. Take care and stayed blessed.

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    1. Hi Mary, I’m glad you connected with this post. Try to make concrete plans to see them before the feeling wears off. It doesn’t make sense to make time for funerals and yet be too busy to people while they are alive. Take care. xx

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      1. Thanks Michael. Great advice which I will definitely take. Four generations of my family are off on a cruise next year. Take care. M xx

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  9. Another well-written & timely article, Willy, especially as most in our circles cross ( or have crossed) the threshold into our 50s. It seems as if the spontaneity of our youth is often kidnapped by the obligations of work, parenthood, caring for aging parents, financial constraints, illness, etc. We resolutely promise ourselves, “next year”, while freely admitting that tomorrow isn’t promised; but even when the opportunity that “next year” promised actually materializes, we have a knack for finding some other imperative or obligation which trumps our plans and relegates them to the black-hole of “next year” once again. We constantly advise friends & associates, “you won’t ‘find’ the time, you have to ‘make’ the time,” but we rarely follow our own advice. While Jenny & I thoroughly enjoy our life together & have few regrets, we are developing a burgeoning bucket list, and we realize that the accomplishment of any of them are not advanced by each passing year. As you propose in your blog, we need to adopts Nikes old slogan and “just do it,”, and soon. In the interim, as Christians, & as you eloquently summarized, we continue to pursue ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It was really great seeing you.

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    1. Hey Wayne, I’m glad you got around to reading this. If you hadn’t, it would have been the ultimate irony! Just chip away at that bucket list a little at a time – everything will be there when you get back and the world would not have fallen apart. I’m thinking about whether I’m going to see you in December – you never know!

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