When It’s Over, It’s Over
It is the morning of December 23, and I have a list a mile long, full of things I need to do before hosting Christmas Eve. Let me tell you that at press time, my house is in no shape to host 15 people, 5 people, or even the UPS guy dropping something off in my doorway. My living and dining rooms, where the action will take place, are “decorated” with signs of holiday frenzy - rolls of wrapping paper, Christmas card envelopes, and shopping bags of things to return. Dirty dishes are the focal point of my kitchen. Did I mention that I still need to buy a few gifts, get my eyebrows waxed (priorities), go to the store, and make a few appetizers? Oh, and I’m meeting my college roommate for lunch today; an event I wouldn’t cancel for the world, but one which will take about 5 hours off the clock.
I know I’m not alone in my last minute rush. I can imagine that others have lists much longer, and also full of much worse problems than dishes in the sink. I’m also aware that for others the holidays will not bring a house full of family and friends, and that perhaps by choice or life circumstances the holiday will take on a quieter, more mellow tone.
In each case, I would bet that we share an underlying anticipation both of Christmas coming and of Christmas leaving. I’ve heard more than one person say, “I’ll be so relieved when the holidays are over. Then I can relax.” You can bet this thought has crossed my mind as I’ve stressed out over the gifts, cleaning, entertaining, and holiday travel.
Part of my holiday build up does provide stress-free time to catch up with old friends. It comes in the form of an annual holiday lunch at school where retired teachers come in to catch up and celebrate the season. At this celebration, I was talking with a retired teacher who shares a love of travel. Each year he tells me about the trips he and his wife take during their globetrotting retirement. This year he noted that his trips have gotten progressively longer, going from 10 to 14 to 21 days. While he said he's come to appreciate the longer, 21- day trips, he noted that on all of these trips he noticed a certain restlessness begin to stir about two days before the trip’s end. Other travelers would start to talk about the return trip…ironically, of course, while they were still on the trip. They’d pack their bags at least two nights before they were to head home, and dinner discussions would be of logistics surrounding the flight home.
Consequently, the trip that they’d planned for months and months would essentially wind down and travelers would be “back home” before it even ended. My friend’s wife began to recognize this as definitely an uncool way to get the most out of a trip. She didn’t buy into the early mental departure and preparation but instead adopted the mantra “when it’s over, it’s over.” Meaning… the trip will be over soon enough, but it’s not over yet. So enjoy it (while you’re still there) and don’t even think about packing your bag until the last night.
When it's over, it's over. I think my friend's wife may have nailed a huge secret to life in this one simple phrase. With trips, the holidays, weddings, and all of the moments in our lives that we plan in advance… how often do we just actually enjoy those moments when they come? After all, those moments are about those moments. When they arrive, the planning is done. All we have are those moments. They will never happen again.
Of course this is not a new idea; we are told to live in the moment all the time. However, I think in today’s society, with our daily lists full of things to do, we find it more and more difficult to remain in “real time.” It’s hard for us to stop and enjoy moments because we are often worried about preparing for the next ones.
So how about this? This holiday season, let’s make a solid effort to not allow our lists to distract us from moments of our lives that are unfolding right now. Right now as you plan. Right now as you clean your house. And most importantly, right now when you are gathered with your family and friends, remember... when it's over, it's over.
My wish for you this holiday and beyond is that you see your right now for what it is. Appreciate it in its moment and cherish the people you are with. This way, when it’s over, the memories will be of living fully in the moment and not one second beyond.
Enjoy your life, each moment… right now.