‘Bout Time

‘Bout Time

I hate being late. More precisely, I hate running late. Because, with the rare exception, the moment I arrive somewhere and say, “Sorry I’m late,” and find that it’s just fine, the panic stops. Being late is never the problem. It’s the imagining being late that carries with it real dread.

Take this morning, for example. I was running late to work. I caught myself swearing under my breath, cursing every red light and car traveling the speed limit or below. I imagined the whole universe conspiring against me to make me more late. My blood pressure rose, my muscles tensed. Instead of enjoying an easy drive on a beautiful summer morning while taking in the news on the radio, I worked myself up into an absolutely obnoxious tizzy. For no reason at all. I walked into my classroom at 8:10am and said to my co-teacher, “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“No problem,” he said. “I just got here and I thought I was early.”

Indeed, he was early. We both were. Our boss asked us to be at opening convocation at 8:20am. I was hoping to have more than ten minutes in the classroom to set up, but I didn’t need it. I put my stuff down, unpacked, used the bathroom, and made it to the building next door in plenty of time. At convocation, we realized we actually weren’t needed for anything until 9am, she just wanted us there at 8:20am to ease her mind. I sat there for those forty minutes between 8:20 and 9am reflecting on how I had ruined my drive and wasted a lot of negative energy for no reason at all. As always, it was just fine. There was no need to be stressed by the feeling of running late. Even if I was late, which also would have worked out just fine, being stressed about running late helps no one.

My tizzies are totally irrational, I know. Intellectually, I know that the red lights and slow drivers are out of my control. I will get there when I get there. It’s not worth getting upset. I have lived in cultures that deal with time differently than we do. I have been taught over and over again that being late doesn’t make the sky fall. I’m pretty good at being at peace with being out of control in other areas of my life. Yet I still obsess over being punctual.

It reaches back to my childhood. My mom taught me that if you were late you essentially were telling the people waiting for you that your time is more important than theirs, which, in her opinion, is rude beyond imagination. As a family, we were alway early to everything. In college, I got a note in my campus mailbox from my softball coach before the season started that read:

If you’re early, you’re on time.

If you’re on time, you’re late.

If you’re late, you’re gone.

I internalized these two messages, and I’ve hated the feeling of running late my whole life.

I don’t want people to think I value my time over theirs. I don’t like making people wait. But more than these things, I think I worry that being late somehow is a reflection on me that I’m not handling my life. I think I have a need to appear in control and put together. It is important to me, for some reason, for people to know that I am busy, but I’m competent. I can handle it. This incessant need of mine to be early feels primal, and frankly I’m sick of it. It’s getting exhausting. I’m still trying to get to the root of it so I stop wasting energy and worrying away commutes, but I know it has something to do with my sense of Enough. And maybe knowing that will help me be more mindful when I yet again find myself running late.

  • Claire DeBerg

    Ellie! Great post, as usual. I do love a punctual meeting and I can understand that feeling of not liking being late. When my siblings and I first got our licenses to drive my dad would repeat to us over and over (so we would never be compelled to speed and drive dangerously to make it somewhere on time): “Wherever you’re going will be there when you get there.” Since my dad shared that with me 20 years ago I have learned it is always true :). Also, the slow people in front of me do get me frustrated at times but every once in awhile I take the turtles driving in front of me as a clear sign that I need to slow down and pay some attention to this beautiful world. I don’t know if it is a nudge from God or what, but each time I choose to enjoy going slow I’m much happier when I get to my destination (which is, indeed, always there when I get there).