I’ve been told being late is a choice. That it’s rude. Selfish. That it sends a message: my time is more valuable than yours.
On the surface, all of that makes sense and I don’t fault people who get upset or look down on others who are constantly 5-10 minutes late to meetings, get-togethers, or other occasions. I get it; it’s annoying. I end up upset at myself, in fact. I look down on my own behavior with disappointment and disdain.
Why can’t I just get up earlier? Why can’t I be on time? What is wrong with me?
There can be legitimate underlying issues in habitually late individuals; mental illness may be a factor, with social anxiety, depression, OCD, or another disorder playing a leading role. But because these cases are lower in occurrence, because late people are most often, in fact, just late, the public has little regard for mental illness when it comes to timeliness. More so, as a stereotype, people can’t comprehend something they can’t see. Thus, those without sympathy for mental disorders usually fire insults at such an explanation for lateness, speaking out against “weak-minded” people, even labeling the acceptance of social differences as the “wussification” of America or the downfall of the modernized world. Harsh words from those not afflicted. Harsh words that add to the stigma of mental illness.
In contrast, I’ve read and examined a different take on tardy behavior which concludes people who are continuously late carry more optimism in life. We are hopeful multi-taskers who believe we can fit more into a limited amount of time. For those of us always behind the clock, an optimistic view of our time flaw is definitely an appealing concept… but of course we can read into whatever we want in synopses like these. In the end, inexplicable tardiness is flat out unacceptable, and that’s that.
Whatever the cause and effect, for me lateness is a work in progress and one that I’m improving in my adult life. Yet being late never, ever feels like a choice. It never feels controlling or arrogant or passive-aggressive. In fact, it’s always quite the opposite. Anxiety and panic generally set in during the rush to meet people or meet deadlines. It’s not like I want to be late; it’s not like I want to upset others. I would love to be on time, or, no way, could it be?! … Early! It would seemingly alleviate all stress involved. Sure, time is of the essence, but in essence I feel out of control in that time. In those minutes of lateness there’s an internal battle of self-worth, and I’m losing on both sides.
Get going! You’re late again! Come on, man… you never get this right.
• • •
I have been teaching for 15 years.
Every school day I wake and go, many times in the blur of the morning rush. And like anyone anywhere, I oftentimes dread the grind of the work week. On any given day I know that dealing with teenagers and the ups and downs of middle school life might be trying, it might take major effort to discuss difficult topics, and, usually as my biggest worry, the day might not go as planned.
In the philosophy of Health Education, acceptance that we don’t have all the answers in life is paramount. To express fear lets us be human. To show signs of emotional turbulence is not only allowed but encouraged. It lets us experience the here and now, to see our personal limitations, or to find points for future character development. Just as I might teach the youth of today, mental wellness is a continuous journey.
No one is perfect. And I am a perfect example of this.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I chose to write today instead of earlier in the month because of the meaning and symbolism behind this day. Each year, September’s focus elicits an awareness in me of the journey we are all a part of– the struggle to constantly stamp out inner demons. The difficult fight within.
My battle? Like any other, perhaps, with the beautiful disaster in the details.
I doubt myself every day. I never know if I’m good enough. Good as a dad, good as a teacher, as a coach, as a friend, as a husband… as a person.
I may not be an early bird, but every day I rise and shine regardless, for those I need and for those who need me.
And at the end of the day, “See you tomorrow!” serves as more than just goodbye, take care. It’s a reminder to myself that I’m alive and happy to be, and I will do everything I can to live and see another day.