In trucking, as in the magazine business, one primary indicator of job performance is the ability to do work on time. Drivers have appointments; writers have deadlines.
Deadlines punctuate the lives of nearly everyone, like a period at the end of a sentence or closing the doors when you’ve pulled away from the dock. They create a certain amount of necessary pressure, but they also create the relief of finishing one job and moving on to the next.
Beyond the world of work, other deadlines, other kinds of closure, punctuate our lives. In a sense Christmas is a deadline, New Year’s is a period. Indeed, there are deadlines of all kinds, self-imposed schedules we try to meet despite the interference of the unforeseen and the inevitable. We live our lives according to many schedules. They overlap, they conflict, they motivate, and finally we must at times give them up in the face of a reality that is bigger than any one person’s agenda.
So it is that our lives have been interrupted by the events of Sept. 11. Readers will take in these words long after they have been written, and about three months after a few men from a foreign land changed our lives. In that intervening time, I cannot say what will have happened.
One thing is certain: The pressures we feel, the self-imposed deadlines and punctuations we complain take the joy from the holidays, will be a memory for which we pine. The orgy of giving and receiving, the bittersweet nostalgia for other, better Christmases, will have been replaced by a new, more extreme anxiety. Perhaps only the innocent joy of children will remain to remind us how much we have lost.
Sometimes we don’t know what we have until we understand just how easy it is to lose. Wars are the most extreme example of events reminding us just how important the day-to-day schedules, the deadlines, the punctuations, really are.
When deadlines, schedules and appointments turn jobs into duties we somehow no longer love, when families become people for whom we have to buy gifts, when the joy of generosity is replaced by the stinginess of duty, it is time to remember how empty our lives would be without the deadlines and pressures we make for ourselves. Yes, they can become too important. They can replace real human emotion with indifference. But it is up to us to fight this tendency. Sometimes deadlines are unrealistic, or they become too important because we allow it. In either case, we need to remember what is truly important without forgetting the significance of the deadlines and punctuations shaping and motivating the days of our lives.
I am struggling with this particular deadline more than with others. When the terrorists struck, my mother was lying in a hospital bed, close to death. The doctors say she could die any moment. I may not have her marvelous company for Christmas this year. However different the larger world will have become by then, I know mine will be changed forever. Thus I struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy threatened by the personal, inevitable events all of us must face, and the national trauma recedes into the background.
We still have deadlines to meet. And every personal deadline met, every day used to move the world forward, is a victory over terrorism, a victory over personal defeat, a victory over death.
If truck drivers do indeed move the nation, we have a great responsibility to step up and continue to move the economy, indeed, to help rebuild it. By the same token we owe it to ourselves and to those we love to find satisfaction in meeting daily responsibilities.
Christmas may well bring added pressure. But perhaps in light of the new reality we face, we can find it easier to face such pressure with a renewed sense of balance, a renewed sense of what is truly significant. It is the common, the ordinary, the everyday that is important. We must remember – and we must move forward.
Editor’s Note: Tim Barton’s mother, Ida Barton, died Nov. 1.