My new word: Instead. After last week’s post, I began to think about the time I spend reading or listening to political commentary. I also may spend time doing word jumbles. One of my children remembers a particular addiction to Tetris, but that was years ago. So now, I have a new question: What could I be doing instead of what I am doing?
Many wiser folk have contributed to this kind of problem. I’ll discuss two. Voltaire said something like “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” The general idea here is that trying to do something perfectly defeats the purpose, since such a thing is impossible. We can usually be satisfied with what we are doing.
My favorite of all, however, is this from George Stigler, a 20th century economist who suggested this: “If you never miss a plane, you’re spending too much time at the airport.” Having spent a lot of time in airports this year, this is not the advice I would have liked to hear. Could he be right? I have friends who arrive 3-4 hours ahead of schedule. They get more done than I do in other walks of life, however, so I can’t fault them there. Still, I like Stigler’s sentiment. Saturday we weren’t near to missing the plane, but we were the last ones on because we were waiting at a different gate. How nice to avoid the long lines and the standing! Once before I was also last because one more bit of fun was crammed in on the way to the airport. That was a little more challenging.
So why the butterfly? When I was looking through pictures on Flickr, using just the word “instead,” one result was a butterfly with that word printed on the image. I love butterflies and looked for something prettier.
Considering all of us somewhere in the life cycle of a butterfly stretches my point perhaps. I don’t think of myself as a caterpillar, ever. (This aside from the fact I sometimes identify with The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, an animated version which you can watch here. Only two weeks in the pupa stage!)
Butterflies were, in fact, part of a life-changing experience for me. Sometime in the 1970s, I heard a lecture by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. If you have heard of the stages of grief, you know about her work. Believe it or not, there was a time when people who were dying were not told that their illness was terminal. She did groundbreaking work in the area of death and dying, but my connection with her had more to do with the fact she believed in an afterlife and did much work with people who had near death experiences (NDEs). She uses the butterfly analogy to explain life as a pupa stage, with the emergence of a butterfly in a beautiful world to come. What I remember most, however, was her telling of a visit to a concentration camp at Maidenek, seeing the children’s section with walls covered with depictions of butterflies.
It is a tiny word, instead, but I think I want to spend my time a little better. Less wasted on things I can’t change, boring, dreary things, and more on the creative, the uplifting, even the cleaning. An occasional game isn’t bad, or a podcast. Too many, not so good. One of my mottoes is “Because I said I would,” based on a social movement which will send you promise cards. I don’t like to end with the idea of trying to do better; I actively dislike the word “try.” We’ll see. My list of things undone is long. We’ll see.