Last weekend, I went up to New Jersey for a one year old’s birthday party. I woke up early on Saturday, drove to my friend Rach’s apartment in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the two of us drove up three hours to Cherry Hill. I spent about five hours catching up with my friend An, her husband and both of their families, who had made the trip in; I played with her (almost) three year old and cuddled with her one year old.
An made an exquisite dinner and a super creative barnyard-themed cake. We all sang Happy Birthday and watched as her daughters opened up their gifts. Then Rach and I turned around and drove the three hours back.
I’ve always been one to prioritize my friends and family, and to me that means making the time. When I think about it from the outside looking in, driving six hours in one day for my friend’s daughter’s birthday party sounds a little over the top. In fact, it felt a little over the top; it was a long day. But I think of it as an opportunity to see my friend and be a part of an important milestone in her and her family’s life.
Since committing to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’ve framed many of my decisions against the deadline after which I will be in a void, unable to go out of my way for my friends and family. If a chance to see someone comes up, I think to myself, “When will I get to see that person next?” And now more often than not I answer, “Probably after September when I make it to Maine. I should make the time now.”
I know that mentality is a little dramatic. I’m not going to the moon. I’m not even leaving the east coast. In fact, I will be going to a friend’s wedding party in April. Even so, it feels like most things can fit into one of two buckets: BC (before commencing) or AD (after done). Yeah, I know those acronyms are weak, but work with me here.
For the most part I find this approach fulfilling. However, there are times when I feel like I’m straining myself. I’m not good at turning a friend down, not because I’m afraid I’ll hurt feelings, but because I’d be sad to miss him/her. This happens pretty regularly since I live in the D.C. area: friends stop through on their way somewhere else; friends crash when visiting as tourists or on conferences; friends stay because they want to see me. How fortunate am I to have my calendar chocked full with such commitments? In fact, Friday night I got a call from my friend Chris when she was stuck in traffic on her way south, and she ended up stopping in for a couple of hours with her puppy to wait it out.
I find that the same sort of thing happens in reverse too. The vast majority of my close friends/family live in other cities and states. If I want to see them, as I did with An last weekend, I have to make the time and the drive (or the flight). And it’s really hard to tell myself to stay put.
When I was in grad school, I found that a healthy balance to maintain my sanity was to stay in town and selfishly maintain “me” time two weekends a month. When I graduated, that ratio went completely out the window. Well, at least it did until I began preparing to hike the A.T. I realized I needed time on the weekends to research, shop, hike, (blog).
I’ve been doing my best to give myself the down time I need. Sometimes I turn people down for a visit, and I always turn my phone off at night. But more often than not, my “me” time weekends go out the window. There are too many things to do and people to see.
I figure there are worse things than having my cup overfloweth with loved ones. And ultimately, I keep coming back to the bald truth: I’ll have plenty of “me” time once I begin my trek.