The days are full of frenetic activity–phones ringing with questions to be answered and orders to be entered, the door jangling every few moments as folks come and go, and in between, the bustle of regaining equilibrium. There is no time to get ahead of the game, no leisure to take a quiet break with a cup of coffee, so I take quick sips between periods of communication on the phone and entries in the database. Lunch is a farce, the odd sandwich eaten, inhaled seemingly, between tasks. I can’t remember when I’ve had an uninterrupted period of time during the workday to sit and dine, ruminating lazily while discussing the day’s schedule or current events.
I’m still trying to decide if this is how I want it, or if it’s just the way things have to be. A wise friend once reminded me that we do the things that are important to us. The arguer in me immediately answers with the perpetual “but” and adds reason upon reason why our lives are filled with activity and then, I’m reminded that every one of the activities is the result of our choices. In our business, choices in products to be sold result in a certain level of customer interaction…hours of operation distribute the customers differently throughout the day…media choices determine the scope of engagement, with one line for the telephone demanding a small amount of time, more lines adding to that, and national toll-free lines multiplying the attention needed exponentially…even the choice (or maybe especially the choice) to utilize the internet as a business medium adds innumerable hours of labor to the already crowded days.
This freedom to choose extends to our personal lives, as well as to our families and friends. We choose to live in a certain neighborhood, enforcing on us the necessity of keeping a nice yard, trimming the shrubbery, and raking leaves. Owning our own home, forces the expense of upkeep, paint, and taxes. Having relationships with family and friends coerces us into social events, birthdays, anniversarys, and other scheduled activities, as well as a certain amount of financial obligation, to say nothing of the emotional commitment. All of these requirements are the direct and indirect result of those choices.
The beauty of our lives is that we have the option of making these choices every day. I hear of people who feel trapped by their lives and the regimen that seems to entangle them. I’ve felt the sense of being cornered more than once myself. But overarching those feelings and the despair that helplessness can leave in its wake, is the knowledge that we are here by choice. We could opt, if we wished, to abandon it all, walking away from the whole package, but we’re held here by the fabric of who we are, the totality of what we choose to believe, and life choices we’ve made because of what we believe. I would submit that this fabric is our integrity and is a blessing and not a burden.
The very word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integritatem”, meaning oneness or whole. The essence is that of a piece of fabric, woven together with threads which fit into the pattern, each adding to the strength and beauty of the whole, until you have the completed product, the cloth. Each choice we make is a thread which adds to the complete fabric, good choice upon good choice, decisions made with our intellect and heart, daily adding to the integrity of a life well lived.
We could choose to tear up the fabric and start over. It’s been done many times. But the result is chaos and pandemonium, not only for the one tearing up, but for those who have chosen to be a part of his or her life. Our life choices always affect more than just ourselves, it’s impossible to live in a sealed vacuum. We almost certainly will never know how many people depend on us and our availability, our steadfastness. I am hopeful that all of you who chance to read this understand that you are needed and important. You contribute to the larger fabric, the integrity of your world. If you decide to drop out, I guarantee you’ll leave a hole. And, guess what? Where you leave a hole, there’s no longer integrity and the fabric around will suffer, and strain, and tear.
I’ll take the busyness, the frenetic pace, and the fatigue, thanks! I look back on the choices, good and bad, the good ones showing as clean, solid lines in the fabric, the poor ones knotted and faded, but all of them making up the whole, the integrity of my life. I’m not completely happy with it yet, but I think I can see that it’s a worthwhile project. And I believe I’ll keep heading the same direction. My little patch seems to adjoin the patches of some very fine people as I stay the course I’m on.
“…Choose you this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you have to know who you are and what you stand for,where you want to go and why you want to get there.”
(Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the UN, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner)