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Just in Time

Mum often told me about the night that I was born. The tale had all the elements of a great story, with drama, tension, conflict: and since I was the happy ending, of course I loved it. I also liked the part about my being born exactly at midnight and Mum having the choice between May 31st or June 1st for my birthday. She chose June 1st.

Maybe that's where it all began, my fuzzy relationship with time. I've often thought that I must have been born 5 minutes late because ever since I can remember, my internal clock seemed that much behind. Left to my natural bent, even though I think that I am planning to be on time, inevitably, like clockwork, I have rolled up to church, meetings, lunch dates with friends; for life; 5 minutes late. Consistently. And exactly.

I am not proud of this bad habit but I used to rationalize that if punctuality is a continuum, then 5 minutes late is not horrible. I owned the trait as though it was part of me, like a cat whose whiskers had been trimmed and which could no longer gauge the size of the space to squeeze its body through. Part of my problem was that I lacked a realistic sense of what I could accomplish in a given space of time, always over estimating and I tended to notice things when leaving and try to do "one more thing" on the way out.

I recently faced the reality that being late was a choice and decided to choose to be on time instead. But as I was trying, something happened that hit home so hard it became the turning point for all time because it made me realize the cost of my habit.

 It was the night of our youngest granddaughter's dance recital. Paul was at a conference and was sad to miss it, but I would be there for both of us, and be taking photos as I always do, to capture the memories for all of us. I was already working on my new resolution to be on time, so I had timed out the route to the theatre and was home on time from work.

I still lagged behind though, and as my time to leave approached, I ended up rushing to eat dinner before leaving in a hurry, knowing that I was cutting it fine, especially for going to a place I'd never been before.

I was half an hour into my journey when I looked around the car and didn't see my camera and knew it was still on my kitchen counter-top  where I'd put it so I wouldn't forget it. The show was to start at 6.00 p.m. and the story can best be continued in the series of texts between our son Pete (he was already at the theatre) and me (only when briefly stopped at the side of the road before turning around.)

5:18 pm Pete: We'll save you a seat
5:20 pm Me:Ok
5:33 pm Me: Pete I forgot my camera. Going back to get it
5:34 pm Pete: We're in the middle section. Third row from front. Come down the aisle on the right.
5.43 pm Pete: Are you sure you have time--you wouldn't want to miss Em
5:45 pm Pete: She is only in one number
5.54 pm Pete: She's in the fourth number of night--more important that you're here
6.08 p.m. Pete: Starting soon--are you close?
6:12 p.m. Pete: Still have a seat saved at end of row

Imagine the insanity of committing myself to doing the impossible by going back; then sticking to this crazy course of action; realizing with a growing sense of panic that I might have the camera, but miss the whole purpose for being there.

The theatre was on an army base and I finally found my way there, to the check point at the entrance; dropping the contents of my wallet over my car seat as I hastily fumbled with nervous hands for my drivers license ID. I drove the long network of roads in, and found a parking space on a grass verge because the parking lot was full.

Camera in hand I dashed to the theatre, praying, "I don't deserve this but PLEASE don't let me miss Em unless I need to learn a harder lesson than I already have."

As I stumbled past the ticket collector, who wished me, "Good luck," at finding my way into the dark theatre, I could see her, still on stage with her dance troupe; a dainty, dark haired princess in a sparkly pink costume, and I breathed, "Thank you God." 

My eyes were still adjusting to the dark as I took out the camera. I tried to find in vain to find the seat Pete saved for me. The best I could do was aim in the general direction as I remembered it from his instructions, while snapping photos from the aisle to the embarrassing whispers of, "Can you please sit down?"

It was all totally humiliating and almost a disaster. Nothing could have driven home the point any clearer. If I needed a turning point--a booster rocket to a new way of being; this was it.

Later Pete joked that I was like Honda with their "just in time" inventory management system. I thought about the word "just" and decided that I would turn around that phrase for myself by choosing a different definition. Instead of "just," as in "at the last possible moment," for me it would be the adverb "just," meaning, "exactly," which has the following synonyms: precisely, absolutely, completely, totally, entirely, perfectly. That was how I wanted to be in future, "Perfectly in Time."

The next morning I had my first opportunity to practice the "New Me." I was meeting someone at a coffee shop in a neighbouring town at 10.00. Some people do this naturally but for me it was new to calculate the time needed to get there and add a comfortable margin of extra time to that amount. I got there half an hour early and was settled and drinking a cup of coffee when the person I was meeting arrived--20 minutes early! My reward was the wonderful feeling of being there first, and comparing that with that person being there 20 minutes early and me arriving 25 minutes later.

I have not been late since.I am truly cured my friends. We can choose to change! 

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