I was in second grade, and it was nearing the end of the school day when Ms. Giovanangelo asked if I would bring a paper to the office. Kids were putting on coats all around me, and it was clear the bell would ring at any minute. And though I was a high-achieving, compliant, rule-following kind of a kid, I turned to my teacher, looked up into her face, and told her no. She was infuriated at this clear insubordination, and though I can’t remember the consequences, I do remember an angry, blurry haze. What Ms. Giovanangelo could not have heard was the loud warning sound in my head. If I went to the office, I wouldn’t be at the school’s side door when I was supposed to be. I would miss my sisters walking home. I would be late.
I was in eighth grade, and I was asking Paul B. to sign my junior high yearbook. He looked at me, smiled, and started writing. Certain that his words were positive and funny if not affectionate, I was shocked to find he had written the following:
“Have fun running to class in high school!”
It was true, I did move promptly from one class to another in junior high. If we had four minutes to pass in the halls, I probably did it in ninety seconds. As a class winded down, I may have gathered my books and it’s possible I jumped at the bell. To me, it was commonsense and I never would have dreamed it was conspicuous. I just hated the thought of being late.
I was sixteen, and at a rare restaurant dinner with my family. The place was closing soon, and I felt the glares of the wait staff on me. I knew we should have cleared out hours before. We were keeping them there, holding them up. I silently willed everyone at the table to finish quickly, and as a backup, imagined a scenario in which we would all leave our spaghetti and meatballs behind. We were late.
I was thirty-two and bringing my daughter to preschool a town away. We were routinely early and circled the neighborhood before we parked and I could walk her in at a reasonable time.
I was forty-one, with my husband, and heading to a friend’s house for a drink. They were never really ready for us at the agreed-upon time, but it never occurred to us to be later than that. We were an imposition in our promptness, but it didn’t change our behavior. One night, we were there at 8:10, instead of 8pm, and it was a joke, how late we were.
I don’t know why it’s bothered me so much to be late, or off-schedule, or behind. It’s clearly a lifelong struggle, and it was born somewhere in my genes or early childhood. I find myself more flexible now with the minutes and hours on the clock, but somewhat more disturbed by the timing of major life events or expected milestones. I can’t stand being behind.
I don’t really have a career yet and it’s pretty late for that. Some things haven’t fallen into place as I might have thought they would. Our roads twist and turn when it seems that everyone else has a straight shot. And though my faith tells me that all will be well, and that we learn and grow in the waiting, the prevailing thought that comes to my mind is: we’re late.
To any friend who came to me with this quandary, I would lend the following sage words: There is no such thing as late. Be grateful for the good. You’re making a difference every day. There’s a plan. You are not alone. And I’d believe it, for them, I really would.
I was ten, and I couldn’t sleep. I went to my mother, distressed, for help. She leaned up on an elbow and turned on the light on the nightstand. She advised me to just rest, and the sleep would come. I explained that if I didn’t sleep, I might not do well on a big test the next day.
“Then what would happen?” she asked.
I explained that if I did poorly on a test, then my grades would suffer. (I was a straight A+ student in those days.)
“Then what?” she asked.
Obviously, then I wouldn’t go to college.
“Then what?” she asked.
My Mom just didn’t get it. If I didn’t go to college, I wouldn’t get a job, and if I didn’t get a job, I’d be homeless. Without a home.
She looked at me a beat and helped me see the holes in what I thought was a watertight argument. Maybe one night of lost sleep doesn’t have a direct correlation to homelessness after all.
My Mom was kind to me, much kinder than I am to myself. Most everyone is kinder to me than I am to myself, now that I think of it.
I need something to change.