The phone rang as I was getting ready to go to Mass. It was a weekday, not a Sunday, but I didn’t have much time to spare. The call was from my friend Vicki.
“I want you to come over and see our azaleas,” she said. “They are amazing!”
The first thought that crossed my mind, I am sorry to admit, was less than friendly. It was, “Why do you have to call me at 8:15 a.m. to tell me about azaleas?” I’m happy to say that despite the early (for me) hour of the day, and the indisputable fact that I am not a “morning person,” I recovered my senses quickly and ditched my impatience. I thanked Vicki for calling and told her that I would call her later in the morning to arrange a visit. She suggested that I drive to her house, call her from the driveway and walk into the backyard. She would meet me there.
It was a glorious May morning, brisk but not chilly, with bright sunshine and a brilliant blue sky. I climbed the steps to the backyard, and there they were: several large azalea bushes side-by-side, with tightly-massed blossoms so vivid in color that they seemed surreal. The bushes were mostly a deep reddish-pink, except for two that were light purple. The sight of them in full bloom, blazing with life and color, was heart-lifting. Everything that springtime signifies was right there in front of me: new life, new opportunities, bright colors, the joy of being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. The experience seemed to sharpen my sense of emerging from winter and from the isolation so many of us are dealing with because of the pandemic.
It so happened that I had a lot on my mind that day: things to do, paperwork to attend to, time-consuming chores that I had been putting off—the kinds of things that weigh all of us down. Somehow, as I looked at the azaleas, my burdens seemed much lighter.
It occurred to me that I might have missed those moments of joy, and the hope they renewed in me, if I had given in to my initial impatience when Vicki called. What if she had told me about the azaleas and I had replied, “Oh, I can’t make it today. I have too much to do,” and turned to my chores instead? Besides missing that springtime epiphany, I would have missed the chance for a catch-up chat with a dear friend—something else that we are doing less of because of the pandemic. That’s another benefit of spring weather: being able to get together with friends again, even if only outdoors.
The experience made me reflect on time and leisure: how I think about them, and how I use them. I tend to be anxious about time: How long it will take me to get to an appointment and how long it will run; how long it will take me to finish a chore, like food shopping or laundry; how long I should spend on a brisk walk to make it aerobically beneficial, and so on. Then I wondered: Am I giving too much importance to my so-called schedule, and too little to the unexpected opportunities to relish life and its most beautiful moments? Am I more focused on ticking off the items on my to-do list than nourishing my soul? Most important, am I more interested in keeping to my schedule than keeping up with my friends?
The solution, of course, is balance. That’s what I’m working on: taking care of my responsibilities but also making time to feed my mind and soul, with prayer, friendship, reading and reflection. I’m going to be sure that I keep in touch with my friends, even if that sometimes means a phone call instead of an in-person visit.
I‘m also going to reserve time to do things like admire the azaleas. While making sure that my favorite flower is never impatiens.