I had a couple of meetings out at UBC yesterday; I’m putting on a week-long workshop and needed to sort out some tank space, get keys and have my Faculty ID card programmed for some building and room access, and get the associated paperwork out of the way. I got about half of my tasks done since the admin I needed to catch left early. So I guess I’ll need to make another trip out on Monday.
While I was there though, I had the opportunity to chat with a few people.
The fellow who manages the aquatic research facility happens to also be a guy who volunteered in the lab I did my two graduate degrees in….that was a very long time ago. It was fun to catch up with him and during the conversation he told me he missed research and always thought he’d do more after he finished his Master’s degree but that life had become too busy. I asked how old he was and he told me he was 42. I told him to make the time, because one day he will wake up and realize that there are fewer days ahead of him than there are behind.
While we were talking a man exited the building and passed by me, so closely he almost brushed my shoulder. Our eyes flicked at each other and when he was about 15 feet behind me I spun around and called out “Chris?” He spun and rushed back and gave me a hug. “Paige! That ‘was’ you!” he said. We had a quick conversation, all the pleasantries that accompany an unexpected meeting.
“Do you remember that guy out at Bamfield, that one who called you his wife?”
“How could I forget him, we share the same last name!”
“I’m doing a project with him!”
“The world is truly a tiny place!”
We talked about who was doing what and where, and I reminded him that he’d wanted to do some research at one of our sites, and that I’d still love to try and facilitate it for him if he was still wanting to do some sampling. Card exchange. Another hug. “Talk soon!” I love chance meetings.
I headed up to the administration office to see about those keys and that card programming, and at the top of the stairs was that painting.
When I was doing my Undergraduate degree I’d applied for work-study. It was an opportunity to work for a research lab, learn a bit about the world after a Bachelor’s degree, and make a few bucks to help survive. I had found a job in a comparative physiology lab working for David Jones and it helped shape where my life went next, very much so. I might not ever have even thought of going to graduate school if I’d not worked for Dave. He encouraged me.
Dave was an decorated researcher with a long list of awards, including the Order of Canada. I don’t think there was anything that he wasn’t interested in. I didn’t work for him for long, but he wasn’t one to forget people and he would always stop me to have a chat if we passed each other in the hall, or if he saw me walk by his office door, or he’d come with with me at a conference talk or a seminar that we both happened to attend. fHe had a long battle with genetic emphysema, but it never slowed him down much. He had an acidic sense of humour and the best laugh in the world. One of those laughs that identified him from a distance; you knew when Dave was nearby. He was never without a joke and a laugh, even if it wasn’t really warranted. He laughed at life, even with death always seemingly waiting in the wings.
I love that a painting of him resides in a little natural-light filled alcove at the top of these steps. He looks down on a couple of chairs below. On those rare occasions that I come through here, I always feel that Dave is there ready to dispense some knowledge.
Our lives are shaped by those we encounter, we are a collective of our experiences. I’m glad to have known Dave, he had a hand in shaping my life.
After my failed attempt to get the paperwork for keys and card access sorted out, I stopped in to see a former colleague with whom I have unexpectedly found myself on a three-way application for an NSERC grant application, myself representing the outside partner for. We went for a coffee and talked people, friends, health, cancer, memories, science, new directions, possibilities, family, pets, fish, travel….I love conversations that go everywhere.
But all of that did get me thinking about life in general. So many of us are so terrible at looking beyond the here-and-now. We look back and reminisce. And we talk about the things we’d like to do, our wishes. And then we go back to work and tell ourselves that we’ll get to those things we want to do, eventually, someday.
But as I said to Patrick, then suddenly you find yourself realizing that there are fewer days ahead of you than there are behind you, and some things aren’t as easy to do as they once were. Our joints betray us. We don’t recover as quickly. It becomes easier and easier to put things off by making excuses.
Living doesn’t mean taking that once a year vacation, if it’s even once a year. Living means making every day meaningful. Stopping to actually ‘look’ at the world around us rather than burying our noses in devices. Stop and smell the roses really can mean stop and smell the roses, or the tiger lilies, or the strawberries. We have so much more time available to us than our parents and grandparents did, yet we don’t always make good use of that time. We are wasteful with our most precious commodity, our lives.
Time is money. Sitting still is wasteful. You should be busy.
All of those are fallacies I’ve been, and am, guilty of believing.
Our society seems to have the need to put people in boxes, we need to know what each other ‘does’ to organize them in our minds. We meet people and one of the first questions we ask is “Oh, what do you do?” Just once I’d love to have someone answer in a manner that demonstrates their higher priority on life rather than work. We not only need to put everyone on a ladder rung, but we need to know where we are in relation to them. We are so concerned with our place in the world, and how we measure up with those around us, yet we don’t really place the right importance on the right things.
We need to revel more in the successes of others, and worry less about how it may or may not reflect on us. We make too many things be about the wrong things.
Little Loki only seems to care about a few things. When will we feed him next. Will a human provide a lap and the requisite amount of love once the belly is full. In the absence of a human lap, is there a suitably warm location in which to fall asleep. Days probably blur together for him. But is that so bad? Does a housecat sit around and ponder the meaning of its life? Probably not. And they are probably happier for it. If the basic necessitates of life are available, relax and enjoy the rest. That’s probably what Loki would like to say to me if he could.
Humans suck at that.
We collect too much. We eat too much. We drink too much. We spend more than we earn. We stress too much. We buy too many things we don’t need, and then we want more because we don’t have things that other people have. We do too much of too much and not enough of too little. And then we complain that we don’t have enough time because we make ourselves too busy with things that don’t really matter in the end and not busy enough with the things that really do matter.
So today I am on a flex day. I work a compressed work week – a normal weeks hours in fewer days so that I can have an extra day off every two weeks. I am guilty of frequently filling these flex days with work of a different nature – marking papers, dealing with student emails, catching up on writing for my regular work because the office can often be distracting. I’m guilty of working when I shouldn’t, or working many more hours than I am paid for simply because I want to ensure that what I do produce is the best that I can make it. With no children or grandchildren, it’s easy to fall into a work-too-much routine.
In the past, when I took a day off, I might have laid on the couch and read a book. I don’t do that much anymore, and I am regretting it. I tell myself ‘I will do that’, and then I don’t.
I used to be addicted to my cameras and took far more photos than I used to.
But I think too much about work now.
So today I didn’t answer any work email. I didn’t answer any of those emails from students asking for permission to register without the prerequisites. I didn’t do anything about the workshop preparations.
Instead I picked up my camera and explored a little bit. And I promised myself I would do more of that.
And I thought a little bit about the past, obviously.
And I wrote a little bit for pleasure. And I promised myself I’d do more of that too. Photography and writing go hand in hand for me, they are intricately connected. That’s probably obvious too.
And now I think I will pick up that partially read novel and go sit on the deck and just read, for pleasure, and I’ll try to not feel guilty, and I’ll think about whether or not those strawberries in the hanging basket might have a chance to ripen before the squirrels eat them.
And I’ll stop being so melancholy.
And I’ll take more photos tomorrow. If only because it pleases me to do so.
And, since I failed to get everything done at UBC yesterday, I’ll say hello to Dave again on Monday when I go back out to campus.
Have a happy weekend 🙂