“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring
The green-waste verge pickup was looming. I had just one afternoon to pack in as much trimming and pruning to make the most of it. But it was hot and it was humid.
I tried to stay in the shade most of the time – doing what I could from the shelter of other tree branches. I resolved not to be overly pedantic or overwork myself. I’d just do what I could. But there was one monolith-like bush that I was determined to tackle – the overgrown bougainvillea. That thing grows fast and a little out of control. It sends off shoots that soar into the sky and careen off into the gutters and under the roof of the neighbours garage. It has a beautiful display of pink flowers but it also has thorns. Nasty ones.
As I didn’t have a lot of time or energy, I decided I would focus on the top of the bush. If I cut off the highest branches that would at least keep it under control for a little while. I found my ladder and proceeded to balance it on the uneven ground in order to make the climb safely. Perched on the highest rung, I began to snip away at the offending branches, being careful not to lacerate my arms or legs as the branches fell to the ground.
The thing was, as I tried to cut away at the top of the bush, I found I just couldn’t reach. It was spiky, awkward and even with the help of the ladder, I couldn’t reach over the bulk of the branches underneath. I did what I could and then, I have to admit, I gave the idea away for another day.
Another day when I’d have time and energy to tackle it more comprehensibly. For I realised that I first needed to focus on pruning the bottom and middle of the bush in order to prune the top more successfully.
In a funny kind of way, this got me thinking about life. Sometimes we are so intent on getting to the top that we forget that climbing the ladder is only part of it. Once we’ve climbed there, how effective are we going to be? How much have we left undone, unfinished, ignored or forgotten, that will hinder our progress or render our time at the top unfulfilling?
Our time in life is limited and we cannot do everything. It is admirable to have a goal or plan and to achieve well, but what if, in racing to get to the top, we are forgetting about what is underneath?
We may have the perfect, ‘Pinterest-worthy’ home, but have we taken the time on that journey to cultivate the relationships to fill those spaces with laughter, love and kindness.
We may have loads of instagram followers and envy galore as we promote our brand, our holidays or our lifestyle, but what about the health of our families – do we even like each other anymore?
We may hold the well-paying, high-ranking position at work, but how are our stress levels or our physical health? We may have the best-looking abs on the block, but what about the churning in our souls – the gnawing feeling that there is something more, something worth slowing down for.
Now this all seems very binary, like we can only have one or the other. I’m sure that’s not the case. But too often in our focus to get to the top – whatever our definition of success – other things have to fall aside. We are only human after all.
I don’t pretend to know what is right or wrong for any individual. I can only look at myself. But it is the self-reflection that is important. To slow down, to look around and to consider whether in the desire for success, some very important stuff underneath is being ignored or neglected.
Today, I choose to step down the ladder and place my feet on the ground. I will pause the reaching and the striving and look inwards and outwards in order to consider again. What do I believe is of utmost importance? Who in my life needs a little more care or consideration? Am I investing time in what I truly value?
As Gandalf so wisely advised, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.