First let me tell you that I love you. I respect you, I admire you, I appreciate your presence in my life, I enjoy spending time with you, I think you’re a good person, I celebrate your successes with you and mourn your losses and am fully prepared to help you and/or support you and/or encourage you with whatever challenges come your way.
That being said, I’m going to have to call you back. Buh-bye for now. *click*
I had an important moment today, which might not make me sound like the greatest person in the history of humanity but which was nonetheless seriously significant in my world: I cut short a phone call with my mother, told her I’d call her back, and hung up the phone.
She’d called while I was out for my walk/jog; there’s a particular corner on my route that marks the Official End of the Warmup Phase and where I pump my arms a few times then take off jogging for as long as my legs will hold out (right now that’s usually until about halfway across the little green bridge–I like to know that if I collapse of a heart attack on the spot, there’s at least a railing to grab so I don’t face-plant on my way down), and about 10 paces before I reached that corner, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. So I stopped, removed my earphone, checked the caller i.d., and walked in place while I had a spectacularly short conversation with Mom (“Hi there! Whatcha doin’? Oh, are you out for your jog?” “Yep.” “Ohh, ok…” “Tell ya what, I’ll call you back when I get home. Ok?” “Ok…” “Great! Talk to you soon. Love you. *click*”). And then I spent the rest of my exercise period convincing myself that this did not, in fact, make me the most terrible human being in the history of human beings.
Here’s the thing: somewhere along my path, I got the idea that “being a good person” and “being there for others at all hours of the day and night” were synonymous. Having a servant’s heart became a matter of ego for me–doing things for other people makes me feel good, and makes me feel good about myself, so I like getting my gold star under “Good Helper” each day. Being a blessing to others became a sort of mission for me; my friends and I laugh about how my motto is not terribly far from “Let me nurture you, dammit!”.
But I am officially declaring, exclusively for the benefit of convincing myself that I am not the most selfish person alive, that when I’m out exercising, that’s my time. MY time. Mine and mine alone. Dad passed away in March, so this is not The Call telling me that I need to get to the hospital right now because he’s had yet another heart attack or stroke. I don’t play the lottery, so you’re not calling to tell me I’ve won. And I live an hour away from most of my family, so there is nothing that I can personally fix from here that cannot wait for 30 minutes while I finish my jog; and if what you’re calling about is the sort of emergency that requires immediate action, I’m probably not the best person for you to be calling anyway, since I am not an attorney, trained paramedic, member of the Armed Forces, or Time Lord.
So I apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause to you. I’m sorry if your emotional needs go unfulfilled for 30 minutes while I take care of my body. I am appropriately chagrined if I am the last person to hear your Incredibly Big News because I told you I couldn’t talk right now. I regret if my decision not to exercise with you makes you question whether I love you as much as I say I do or value our friendship, but frankly, you’re at a higher fitness level than I am so I’ll just come out of it feeling like a failure, and besides, I do not want to spend my 30 minutes talking about what’s going on in your life. If it helps, you can think about that time as “time BW is spending improving her health, so that she will live longer and therefore be able to offer more years of her time to supporting my mental/emotional/psychological/spiritual/social/physical needs”.
And maybe–probably–I’m putting too much pressure on myself, and the reality is that if I don’t answer the phone, nobody’s hurt or put-out in the slightest. But that’s not what my inner demons tell me, and for the record, they are way louder than any of you could possibly be. And the only one who can tell them off is me…which is why we’re here today.
So to reiterate (are you listening, Inner Voices of Discouragement and Shame?), I am formally, officially, taking myself off-duty for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. 90 minutes total. The rest of the time I am available via cell phone, text message, instant message, email, Facebook, assorted blogs, or just stopping by the house. I love you and support you and want to be there for you as much as possible.
Just not during those 90 minutes. Those 90 minutes are mine. And if that makes the inner demons renew their smear campaign against me, so be it; I am giving myself permission to be selfish for 90 minutes per week, and, as the old Sunday school song says, “if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack”.