Triage

I don’t know about you, but I have several “quotes” posted around my study here, reminders of truths. The bits of paper come and go. It’s not that the messages are any less pithy or significant, but sometimes they are lost or supplanted. There is one that has been around for a long time: it’s getting a little grimy on the curled up edges of the paper. It is a couple of phrases taken from a Boston Globe newspaper column by the incomparable Ellen Goodman, about twenty years ago. I remember that she mentions Hilary Clinton, who was then approaching her 50th birthday and although I felt quite young, firmly in my forties, I was (and am still) always looking ahead. I crave instruction on how to move forward in life. Here’s what it says:

“Pick carefully and boldly…Triage what you want to do and what you want to quit. Live intentionally”

This quote has stuck around so long because I really want to triage, but some days, like today, it seems that I do not know how. Boldly choosing what to Quit? Living Intentionally? Yes, yes, and yes again. In my seat of ‘first world privilege’, I have the option of doing just that. But I dither, I falter, I regress to old habits, particularly the care of others and I live… unintentionally? Without clear intention and follow through, that is to say, as if I do not have the power of choice. Which rhymes with voice. Which is why I am writing.

Triage; I like the sound of the word; from the French, I believe. I generally think of it being used in a medical setting, as in the old television show M*A*S*H, where they would ‘assign degrees of urgency’ to wounded soldiers. In that setting, urgency was closely correlated to triage. Looking in the dictionary, ahem, I find that the first listing says: “the action of sorting according to quality.” First note to self: urgency is not necessarily a part of triage. Second note: it is an action, which means it is something to practice and develop as a skill (see quote below from Ursula LeGuin.) And third note to self: the word ‘quality’ refers to the things that give me pleasure and satisfaction, as in ‘quality of life’.

I’ve written before about mindfulness and these last few days about heroes and inspiration. Put it all together and I see that I want to slowly, but persistently, sort through the various parts of my life and do some clearing out. Doesn’t have to be dramatic, just little daily choices NOT to do things that don’t nourish me and are not my responsibility. In the space that opens up, I can try other things. I can try imagining other things. Goodman’s quote goes on to say: “Leap and the net will appear.” Take risks and try new things, has been my interpretation of that advice, which lines up with another quote on my desk, this one from Mary Oliver:

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

As I age, time seems more limited ahead of me; heck, it seems more limited every day! That is why these questions, these exhortations seem even more important to heed than when I posted them, decades ago. I will leave you with this note from Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin. The book is about the craft of writing, but I found this section to have a wider meaning:

“We can use and practice [behaviors, actions] until – the point of all the practice – we don’t have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills. A skill is something you know how to do.”

NaBloPoMo November 2015
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