This afternoon, I called my 87-year-old dad to check in, something I do every Sunday. While he told me about the morning's church service, which seems to have featured as much Christmas music as the two pastors could fit in, complete with choir, organ, classical accompaniment, soloists, and the whole shebang, I busied myself with starting my annual batch of Solstice eggnog.
While Dad described the service, and from there segued to the pastors, both new and both female (he approves–they each give a good sermon), I broke and separated 36 local eggs into two large bowls. When Dad went on to politics, I turned on my big Kitchenaid stand mixer and slowly beat 2-1/2 pounds of powdered sugar into the gorgeous orange yolks (chickens that get outside to eat bugs have the most beautiful yolks, not those pale ones like factory-farm eggs).
As I carefully began mixing the first of eight cups of dark rum into the yolk-sugar mixture, I realized I had lost the thread of Dad's conversation (he's smart, reads a lot and has a lot of time to think, so he can pretty much carry the conversationby himself). I tuned back in with just a touch of guilt and paid more attention for the rest of our talk.
Later, as I whisked four quarts of heavy whipping cream, plus two quarts of half-n-half and a quart of skim milk into the yolk-sugar-rum mixture, I thought that I've been doing that a lot: Whizzing through my days, doing at least two things at once, and not paying my entire attention to any one. It's an old habit, that going full-tilt boogie until I drop, and one I thought I had unlearned. Or at least learned to be aware of.
Apparently not. Since I didn't notice until after I had spent the better part of an hour on the phone with Dad without giving him my full attention.
Huh. I guess I get points for noticing, even if belatedly.
And is it so bad to multi-task if I can do two (or three) things at once? I get more done that way. (That's the voice of my ego, who hates to admit I'm wrong.)
As I hefted the heavy bowl of rich and fragrant nog, all three gallons of it, into the fridge to mellow for the night, it hit me: Splitting your attention means missing part of life. Moments you'll never know again.
Dad is 87. Mom died nearly five years ago in 2011, the same year that Richard died. She was exactly two months shy of 80; Richard was just 61, vigorous intellectually and physically, engaged in abstract sculpture–until the cancerous tumor nuked his right brain.
Did I really need a reminder to be present in this moment, right now, because what's next is a total crapshoot?
So tomorrow on Winter Solstice, the day when I begin my annual tradition of reviewing and considering my writing and life, and coming up with my intentions for the new year, I'm going to start (again) practicing slowing down and paying attention.
Being where I am and inhabiting this solo life. I never imagined I would be a widow at 59, navigating by myself. But this is the life I have, and it's better than the alternative. After helping two of the people I love most in the world die well, I know that much.
For now, I'm going to finish making a huge batch of delicious homemade eggnog, pour it into dozens of small jars, and spend part of my day tomorrow delivering my annual gift of love to my friends.
And enjoying the being on this earth. Alive. Present. Savoring my moments, however they come.
Solstice blessings to you all!