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A MINUTE of MARGINrestoring balance to busy lives
By RICHARD A. SWENSON
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 Richard A. Swenson, M.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReflection 1 [PRIORITIES]
One September Morning on the 103rd Floor
If you attempt to talk with a dying man about sports or business, he is no longer interested. He now sees other things as more important. People who are dying recognize what we often forget, that we are standing on the brink of another world. William Law, eighteenth-century British theologian
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THE SKIES WERE partly cloudy, the temperature was 68 degrees, the wind was out of the west at 10 miles per hour. A beautiful day. At 8:45 A.M., people working on the 103rd floor were pouring their morning coffee, straightening their desks, reviewing their Tuesday appointments, bantering with office mates, glancing at the harbor ...
One minute later, none of that mattered. Twenty floors below, a 757 transected the building, leaving the 103rd cut off, trapped, hopeless. But not yet dead.
When you have ten minutes to live, what are your thoughts? What is important in the last seconds? As a tribute to those nameless faces staring down at us from the smoky inferno, can we stop what we are doing long enough to listen to them? Seeing death from this perspective is not morbid: on the contrary, it can help us see life.
Those who found phones called-not their stockbrokers to check the latest ticker, not their hairstylists to cancel the afternoon's appointment, not even their insurance agents to check coverage levels. They called spouses to say "I love you" one last time, children to say "You are precious" one last time, parents to say "Thank you" one last time. Through tears they called best friends, neighbors, pastors and priests and rabbis. "I just want you to know what you mean to me." And surely those standing on the brink of another world thought of God-of truth and eternity, judgment and redemption, grace and the gospel.
Imminent death has a commanding power to straighten life's priorities with a jolt. At such dramatic moments, people suddenly realize that priorities matter.
Tragically, however, chronic overloading obscures this truth. How we live influences how we die, and misplaced busyness leads to terminal regrets. If we don't move to establish and then guard that which matters most, the breathless pace of daily overload will blind us to eternal priorities, until one day we too stand at such a window and look down. Perhaps with regret.
Slow the pace of living until you again remember that day. If that were you on the 103rd floor, what would have been important? Live it. Don't hide behind the excuse of overload. Daily make space in your life for the things that matter most.
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The afternoon knows what the morning never dreamed. Swedish proverb
Chapter TwoReflection 2 [MARGIN]
The Disease of the New Millennium
I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery. Henry David Thoreau
* * *
THE CONDITIONS OF modern-day living devour margin. If you are homeless, we direct you to a shelter. If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps. If you are breathless, we connect you to oxygen. But if you are marginless, we give you yet one more thing to do.
Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor's office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the hairstylist's because you were ten minutes late dropping the children off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station-and you forgot your wallet.
Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase; money left at the end of the month; and sanity left at the end of adolescence. Marginless is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time: margin is Grandma taking the baby for the afternoon. Marginless is being asked to carry a load heavier than you can lift: margin is a friend to carry half the burden. Marginless is not having time to finish your stress book: margin is having time to read it twice.
That our age might be described as stressful comes as a discomforting surprise when we have so many advantages. Progress has given us unprecedented affluence, education, technology, entertainment, and convenience. Why then do so many of us feel like air traffic controllers out of control? Somehow we are not flourishing under the gifts of modernity as one would expect.
The marginless lifestyle is a relatively new invention and one of progress's most unreasonable ideas. No one is immune. It is not limited to a certain socioeconomic group or a certain educational level. Even those with a deep spiritual faith are not spared. Its pain is impartial and nonsectarian-everybody gets to have some.
Marginless living is curable, and a return to health is possible. But the kind of health I speak of will seldom be found in the direction of "progress" or "success." For that reason I'm not sure how many are willing to take the cure. But at least we all deserve a chance to understand the disease.
Make an intentional decision about how much marginlessness-that is, how much overload-is acceptable in your life. Some enjoy a high-stimulus life of continuous multitasking. Others prefer a more controlled, peaceful pace. Once you understand where on this spectrum you function best, attempt to stay within a range of tolerances. Exceeding these parameters will put your productivity and passion at risk, eventually resulting in exhaustion, disorganization, and irritation.
* * *
Happiness is a place between too little and too much. Finnish proverb
Excerpted from A MINUTE of MARGIN by RICHARD A. SWENSON Copyright © 2003 by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.. Excerpted by permission.
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