Finally I’d done it. I’d quit my job, extracted myself from Moscow’s clutches, settled my affairs. I was free, truly free.
Unbound, exalted, joyful, I went tripping off through the daisies into the golden sunrise of my happy ending, singing a little tune, leaving all my cares behind.
What happened was this: I woke up on my first morning in Cavtat, rolled over in bed, and reflexively reached for the alarm clock, only to realize that it wasn’t in fact, going off. I hadn’t set the alarm because there was no reason to get up that morning. No one was waiting for me, no clock was ticking. I could stay in bed all day if I wanted: for the first time in years, I wasn’t at risk of being late for anything.
It was Thursday, June 21st 2007, and I was completely and utterly free. There was nothing I had to do in June, nothing I had to do in July. Nothing to do, in fact, all year.
I lay back, thinking about that. For probably the first time in my life, I had no deadlines, no obligations, no plan for the future.
Without hesitation I jumped out of bed, picked up the phone, and called my friend Pepo. It took a few rings, but finally I heard his voice on the line.
“Pepo, this is Michele.”
“Will you have coffee with me, say, day after tomorrow, at eleven o’clock?
A pause. “Michele, it’s seven in the morning.”
“I know, did I wake you up? Sorry. Anyway, does eleven work for you? Because I could do twelve, too, if that’s too early.”
His voice was dry. “Sure, we can meet at eleven on Saturday. Why not?”
We hung up. I found a paper and pencil, and wrote at the top of the page: “To Do”. Then I put down, “Sat. Coffee with Pepo. 1100.”
That felt much better.
If you are laughing, you know me pretty well. Because of course I’m not off the hook at all. Sure, I’ve quit my job, packed up my stuff, and flitted off to sunny Croatia to spend the summer in idle luxury. But that makes surprisingly little difference to how I live my life.
I still wake up in the morning itching to do something. I still fret when my “To Do” list is checked off. I’m still...well...me. I just have a lot more time to think about it.
This is, of course, a blessing. But if you’ve ever tried it, you know it is also pretty hard work.
Every morning, drinking my coffee and reading the paper at a favorite cafe, I look out on sheer beauty. I take in the glory of the morning sun on the water, the birds singing in the pine trees, the simple joys of this amazing place. And then I think, now what?
What can I do with my life that is worthy of the simple and staggering miracle of having a choice about what to do with my life?
Engaging with this question, facing it full on, changes everything. The simplest choices have meaning (of course, they always did, but I was too busy to notice before). If I make a sketch there’s no reason to rush it, no excuse to cut corners and leave the rest for another day. I don’t have anywhere else to be, I’m not snatching time out of my busy schedule. I’m just here, and today is the other day. So I find myself really drawing, with all my heart, as I rarely have before. Really drawing, and really thinking, and really just sitting and noticing what goes on around me.
It can get a bit scary.
Sometimes I worry that I can never make this work, that the opportunity is actually a burden too heavy for me to carry. Some days I give up on whatever I’m doing, go home in a snit and close all the doors and windows. I plop down on the bed to read a book, or worse,The Economist.
But time just keeps on passing, and after a while I get bored with being freaked out. I put down The Economist, and wonder what I was so upset about. I get up and look out the window. It’s still beautiful out there. And I think, Maybe I’ll go for a swim.
That’s the nice thing about having lots of time. You get second chances.
One day unfolds, crests, lingers, and finally ends. Another day begins. The sun comes out, goes behind the clouds, comes out again. Time seems almost infinite.
A friend writes to ask whether I’m bored yet, when I’m coming back to work. I look out at the waterfront. The sun is shining; boats scurry in and out of the harbor. Some kids have taken over the dock for their pirate game. Not yet, I write back. Someday, but definitely not yet.