me on the beach

Can you guess what I’m thinking in this photo?

Yep, this was me looking pretty darn hot at 19.

a) This sun feels great.

b) I hope Jeremy’s thinking about me right now (we had just started dating).

c) I can’t believe how great it is to be on vacation after exams.

d) I hope I don’t look too fat in this. I probably don’t have the body for a bikini.

e) All of the above.

The correct answer is e.

Honestly, isn’t “d” just ridiculous? I mean, at the age I am now, I would love to look like I did in this photo again. How could my perspective have been so off kilter?

Why didn’t I just enjoy it at the time? I should have been wearing miniskirts and bikinis and tube tops every day. With 20/20 hindsight I think, “I would never think that I was fat if I looked like that.” But apparently I did. And I probably could do so again.

I wonder how many hours women have wasted thinking about physical shortcomings, reprimanding themselves, avoiding some kind of activity or opportunity because of some deep-rooted sense of inadequacy about their bodies?

A story Anne Lamott shared in Bird by Bird demonstrates this absurdity in stark terms:

“But about a month before my friend Pammy died, she said something that may have permanently changed me. We had gone shopping for a dress for me to wear that night to a nightclub with the man I was seeing at the time. Pammy was in a wheelchair, wearing her Queen Mum wig, the Easy Rider look in her eyes. I tried on a lavender minidress, which is not my usual style. I tend to wear big, baggy clothes. People used to tell me I dressed like John Goodman. Anyway, the dress fit perfectly, and I came out to model it for her. I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, ‘Do you think it makes my hips look too big?’ and she said to me slowly, ‘Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.’” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

There’s a sense of urgency in Pammy’s words. Instant perspective. Because although Pammy was the one with terminal cancer, Anne was suffering from a disease of a different kind. The fact is that no matter how healthy we may appear on the outside, none of us have that kind of time.

These days I’m measuring my thoughts and actions against Pammy’s yardstick. Do I have the kind of time that accommodates spending two hours beating myself up about wearing “mom jeans?” What about the extra weight I was hoping would be gone by the time I finished my 5K? Should I spend a day or two feeling bad about how I look in the pictures taken on that otherwise glorious day?

I still have thoughts that are a waste of time, but they are much more fleeting. I’ve fought hard to get to a point in life where I am living with more joy than pain. So these days if I begrudgingly give wasteful thoughts any of my precious time, it’s seconds. No more hours, and definitely no more days.

Thank God, I have much better things to do with my time.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver