Meeting the Deadline


Donna Carty

Angel blowing bubbles
Illustration by Angelbeybe's Angel Pictures

To be a woman is to live daily with a thousand deadlines. They paper our desks, our refrigerators and our message boards. They arrive constantly by snail mail, by phone mail, by e-mail, and by the urgent voices of our children and all those others who depend on us. We are like jugglers, keeping a thousand balls in the air, and proud of it.

Some could be dropped with little or no consequence. If the milk goes sour before we get to the grocery, and we don't discover it until after the grocery closes, a neighbor will lend some, or the kids will eat left over pizza for breakfast, rather than cereal, and be none the worst for it.

Some are less important than we think. We build fragile towers of consequence that sound like the poem that starts out "For want of a nail..."

"If I don't get up by six tomorrow," we say, "I won't make it out of the apartment before seven, so I'll miss the 7:30 bus, so I'll miss that important meeting, so we won't get that contract, so I won't get that promotion, so I won't be able to buy a house."

Some are more important than we think, like mammogram appointments.

Recently, I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in several years. She appeared to have changed her whole look and much improved it. She'd lost weight and had a completely different, much more flattering, hairdo than the one she'd worn for all those years I'd known her. She had an air of purpose about her, that she had lacked before. I complimented her on her hair.

"It's a wig," she said. "I'm undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer."

And she smiled.

I knew the feeling.

Death is the ultimate deadline. And it is exactly the kind we tend to miss, the kind that belongs only to the individual, the sneaky indeffinite kind. We keep those balls in the air indeffinitely, waiting for "a good time" to make love to our man or to sit down and work out the disagreements that fester, to have a child, to go back to school, to quit smoking, to finally do what we really want to do for a living, to make those changes that are necessary in order to live the way we eventually intend to. These are the good intentions that pave our comfortable ruts. We follow our accustomed route without thinking, until, if we're lucky, that road goes right off the edge of a cliff.

We land hard, bruised, maybe damaged, unable for one reason or another to take up our lives where we left off. But able to take them up all the same. Or maybe we land unharmed, simply suddenly blessed with the bone-deep awareness that time WILL run out, that it almost did. For many of us, such an event marks the beginning of an intentional life.

If one thing has to change, then why not many? We pick up our bruised and purple hearts, pin them back on our sleeves, and wear them proudly as a signs that depite our wounds in the wars between the sexes, we refuse to retire from the field of battle. We decide that out our wheel chairs make new things possible and paint wings on them. Or we launch into activism. We decide we can no longer afford to wait for glacial societal change. Poverty, or drunk driving, or gang violence, or the difficulty of finding good day care must end. We set out to make it so.

If we are perhaps too lucky for our own good, that preliminary jolt never comes. Examples from other lives must serve the purpose. When someone dies, like Princess Diana, or Mother Theresa, or an acquaintance who delayed a mammogram a bit too long, we judge whether they chose well among all the deadlines in their lives, which they chose to meet, and which they chose to ignore. Though it is impossible to truly live as if tomorrow will be our last day, we must also take the occasion to examine our own choices, and to make changes in our priorities if they are called for.

Choices and priority setting isn't easy, but let me offer you a method I use myself. I toss a coin, but not the usual way. The right way to use a coin for choices is to assign the sides and toss it, but never look at how it lands. The moment you toss it, in that moment before it lands, you will know how you want it to land. You have made the decision. Now act on it.

Hurry. The deadline is coming.

Having finally gathered the courage to earn her living doing what she loves where she loves to be, Donna Carty, born and bred in tradition-rich West Virginia, now LIVES in New York City, selling books, writing, and applying traditional women's skills to jewelry making.

Email Donna

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