Monday, 17 August 2015

A lesson on living in the present

The phone rings before I have had the chance to savour my first cup of coffee.  “What’s happening today?” asks the raspy voice on the other end of the phone. “Are we doing something? Is anyone coming around?”  

These brief conversations with my father have slipped into our morning routines, like a bookmark delineating the start of our days, providing an opportunity to imbue the day ahead with love, joy, warmth and laughter.  From the depths of the corny chamber of my brain, I try to find some witty banter to infuse into our conversation. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t.

As a General Practitioner for more than half a century, my father’s working days were mapped out into 15-minute intervals.  Adherence to this strict timetable continued after hours, with the loving assistance of his German-born wife.   Weekday or weekend, breakfast was always at 7.30am. Dinner precisely 6.30pm, whilst bedtime was never past 10pm, but with a caveat. There was always an unconditional window for reading. Growing up, the golden rule was that if you did not arrive at least a few minutes early, you were late.

In my parent’s house, going with the flow, merely meant a river running downstream. This was aptly demonstrated by the annual calendar, where colour-coded reminders mapped out the year’s events long before New Years was even a passing thought. Overseas trips were planned and organised with military precision, whilst itineraries were distributed to every family member, so we too could follow their giddying journey, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

Eyes were always on the destination, with no allowance for casual deviations. Who knows what we missed out on? If it wasn’t planned, it didn’t happen.

Since then, things have changed and along the way, my father has unwittingly lost this narrative. All notions of planning have been left stranded somewhere along his lengthy journey of life. Yet, his newly unstructured lifestyle of living in the present has not been met with the opposition and resistance that I would have expected.  Instead, Dad has developed a Zen-like state of inner calm and acceptance.

At times it’s hard to imagine that the youthful version of this same man wore a watch, seemingly etched onto his wrist pronouncing every second that made up every minute of his day.  

As a devotee of mindfulness, you would think I’d be at one with his twilight transformation. Yet a growing frequency of not being at home when he says he will be, or not bothering to answer the phone because “I didn’t feel like it” leaves me nursing frazzled nerves. His newly found laissez-faire attitude and timeless existence extends to calls from medical receptionists, not really knowing what to do with him when he arrives anything from three hours to one week early for an appointment.

Obviously my father’s lifetime allocation of planning is clearly exhausted. We joke about how he has grown up in his old age.  He does what he feels like, when he feels like doing it.  Walks are now mini adventures, guided by his weathered internal compass, not a clock. It may lead to an unexpected coffee stop where he marvels at a toddler sipping a baby-chino, or to the local cinema where, for better or worse, he watches whatever happens to be screening. 

My previously time efficient father now eats when he’s hungry, sleeps when he’s tired and doesn’t force his eyelids to stay open any longer than they need to.

In fact, he is as committed to abiding to this non-time schedule as he was to keeping to time in his previous life. His newfound timeless ignorance is for the most part a blessing; well for him in any case. If however, you do happen to see him, whatever you do, please don’t tell him that he has become new age.  He’d be absolutely mortified!