Not long ago, my wife and daughter and sister-in-law, who lives with us, left town to visit relatives in California. I stayed behind because this is the busiest time of the year for my job, which is to write grants for K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations. My plan was to use those nine lonely days – when I would be exempt from many of my obligations as husband and father and brother – to get up early and stay up late, to work long, punishing hours then so I didn’t have to when my loved ones return to Portland.
The fundamental flaw in my plan’s logic is there for anyone to see: the harmony of a household cannot be achieved by sending three-quarters of it away for a while. Nor can a family be healthy when one of its members is working himself into ill health.
Just as disappointing is the way I took advantage of my family’s absence to give free reign to a lifestyle that is wholly inconsistent with what I say I believe. The evidence was scattered all around: fast food wrappers and jumbo soda cups piled in the trash can while the refrigerator was stocked to overflowing with good food grown with care and prepared with love; books and magazines falling all over themselves on the table, a sign that my mind is unfocused; dishes stacked for days in the sink and on the counter; a permanent divot in the couch where I parked my ass for hours at a time.
I don’t know everything necessary to cultivate a life of integrity, but surely it involves those things that seem most absent from my life right now: imagination, discipline, community, and self-respect. The first three months of 2009, especially those nine days alone in January, will be remembered as the crowning achievement of a decade during which I substituted lotus-eating for the practical concerns of building a life of purpose and usefulness. It is the climax of a time of my life characterized by self-indulgence, a chapter in which I could talk myself into anything and denied myself nothing. I don’t want to live this way anymore. And so I have turned the page.