IS it just me or does everyone feel a little guilty when we carve out time for ourselves in the middle of our busy days? I set aside Friday lunch to catch up with a friend. She has been away on holiday so we had a long lunch this week.
Sitting in the sun, looking out at the boats bobbing on the lake, she tells me about her adventures on the QE2. A luxurious cabin with a balcony, food to tempt even the fussiest eater and a pool that sparkles like diamonds in the sun; I can almost see it and she’s reliving it with every rich description. But then she goes quiet and her gaze drifts out across the water.
‘‘It was hard to come home,’’ she says after a minute or two.
‘‘Of course it was.’’ I reach out and squeeze her hand.
I know it’s not because she didn’t want to come home. She’s all about home and family, my friend. Five happy, successful children and a loving husband, she has a lot to be proud of. But home is where she got the diagnosis, motor neurone disease. I can feel it when I visit. It’s dripping down the walls, slithering across the floor, the awful truth that the sands are running low in her hourglass.
She has had to let go of her idyllic picture of retirement. She was going to travel, was hoping for a few more family weddings, but mostly she just wanted to watch her grandchildren grow from babies into children, maybe even have babies of their own one day.
She’s surrendering with such grace, pushing back despair to embrace a positive attitude in the hope that it will give her more time, or at least make more of the time she has. Her strength and bravery make me feel small, smaller still when she lets the cracks open up to share her fear of the future.
‘‘We’re remodelling the bathroom, so there’s room for a wheelchair,’’ she tells me. Her voice has lost its music and there’s a tremble in it. ‘‘And I gave in and ordered one of those walking frames you were on at me to get.’’
But these glimpses are rare. She’s a strong one, my friend.
She’s not going to let one precious moment slip by without squeezing the last drop of life from it. We’ve made a pact never to eat twice at the same restaurant. We’ll sit in the sun whenever it shines and indulge in every pleasure we can, for as long as we can.
She’s surrounded by love. Her kids dote on her, her grandkids hang off her, all smiles and sunshine. Her husband treads the knife edge, grieving but grasping every moment of love that’s left.
But this time she has caught me drifting and she brings me back with a nudge.
‘‘You’re a good friend,’’ she says, smiling. ‘‘I don’t see many people now I’m not working.’’
‘‘It’s not that they don’t want to see you, it’s just . . . everyone’s so busy,’’ I explain.
It sounds feeble, and maybe it is, but it seems as if everyone’s getting busier in this 24/7 world.
We’re earning more, we’re learning more, we’re being perfect parents and impressive employees. We are climbing the corporate ladder, living in better homes and driving better cars than we did when I was a youngster . . . but what’s it all for?
‘‘It’s not your accomplishments that come to mind at the end, it’s the people that you loved and those who loved you,’’ my mother told me a few days before she died.
That’s why Fridays are precious to me.