Here comes The Last Minute, bringing with him a strange and complicated mix of emotions.
Let me explain.
I live my life in company with a certain Procrastination (he was a great friend of my father’s) and I’m quite unable to break off my relationship with him, though occasionally I send him away on holiday. There are times when this helplessness makes me feel imprisoned, and yet, despite his strength, Procrastination is very gentle and comforting.
For instance, when I find myself considering the tasks which should be filling my time today, he’ll murmur in my ear, ‘Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time, you can do that tomorrow. There’s another week before that’s needed, relax. You can afford to have a lazy day.’
If I wake up and wonder whether I should get into my walking things and go out to burn up some unwanted calories; he assures me that it’s far too cold today, and the paths might be dangerously slippery, and concludes by asking, ‘Why don’t you just have another half-hour in bed and forget the whole idea?’
He doesn’t seem to mind me thinking about my tasks and rehearsing what I might write, or say to someone. It seems to amuse him, as long as I don’t put my thoughts into action.
But the problem that comes with living in the company of Procrastination is the pet who sneaks around with him. I’m not sure what kind of pet it is, because it never approaches me openly, and if it sees me coming it turns and runs away. Whatever it might be, it tries to creep up behind me with the aim of pouncing on me when I’m off my guard. But because he’s so concerned for my comfort Procrastination doesn’t approve of this. I’ve heard him reprimand the creature several times.
‘Don’t do that! You’ll frighten her and make her feel uncomfortable. You’ll get us turned away with tricks like that! Do you want us to be homeless? Now stop it!’
I think his pet’s name might be Guilt. I discourage him from allowing it into the house, and if it sneaks in, I ask him to put it out again at once.
Sometimes – especially when the task I should be tackling is a creative one such as a piece of writing, or preparing a service or sermon – Procrastination tries another tack, and says, ‘You know it’ll turn out much better if you do it when Time has run out.’
(Is Time another inhabitant of my flat? If he is I hope he’s not overly sensitive! You know what happened in “Alice”! ) Then Procrastination adds, ‘You always think more clearly when the Last Minute arrives.’
And that is certainly true.
Which brings me back to where we started – here comes the Last Minute, bringing his own particular gifts and help. Unlike Procrastination he’s a stimulating character, who can stir me into action very quickly, and seems to get my adrenalin flowing wonderfully well.
As soon as he arrives he drives out the various Distractions which Procrastination has allowed into the house, and briskly encourages me to get down to work. So if I’m going away for the weekend, the ironing board is put up, the radio or tv switched on, and a huge pile of clothes is swiftly reduced from a crumpled mess to beautifully folded smoothness. The important letter or message is written, addressed and the stamps found, and several vital emails are sent. If it’s a creative task he’ll sit beside me and murmur ideas into my ear – generally very good ones.
So what about those emotions I mentioned? Well first there’s a pair who, although they quarrel all the time, always come together, and they’re Relief and Panic.
Relief is really glad all the putting-things-off is over, and I’m buckling down to it. While in another part of my mind Panic is asking whether it might not be too late, and wondering if I can do the job properly now that Time has run out. (He must be real! Perhaps he’s Procrastination’s friend?)
I have to say, I usually give the Last Minute a warm welcome. I know with his encouragement and gifts he’ll bring two more emotions: a wonderful sense of Achievement, and sometimes a feeling of Righteousness, which, if I’m honest with myself, is totally undeserved!
The fascinating thing about this whole situation is that these two characters are quite unable to live in the house at the same moment. Every single time that the Last Minute comes to the front door, Procrastination slips out the back way. In fact he must leave before the Last Minute can get in. They’re almost like Box and Cox. There’s something else too; although Procrastination slips away, his pet, Guilt, hangs about in corners until the task is finished. I keep glimpsing him out of the corner of my eye. A most persistent pest!
But now I’ve set this whole thing out, and considered it, I’ve come to an interesting conclusion. I think these two characters may be brothers – even twins, perhaps.
Procrastination couldn’t keep me comfortable and relaxed, if I didn’t know that the Last Minute would be sure to turn up and rescue me. (Has he ever been too late? Oh, yes, I can think of one occasion when Procrastination stayed too long, and the Last Minute couldn’t get to me in time. I won’t go into details, but it was deeply embarrassing, and taught me to make sure the front door was always unlatched, and Procrastination was ready to leave.)
Equally, the Last Minute would be less welcome, indeed almost unnoticed and irrelevant if I were not living in such a powerful relationship with Procrastination. I would hardly need to open my door to him.
There’s a powerful lesson here, but I wonder if I’m not too old to learn it now. Ah well, I think I’d miss the excitement, the adrenalin rush, the buzz I get from the arrival and help of the Last Minute!
For me at any rate it’s true: If it weren’t for the Last Minute, nothing would get done!
From ‘Beauty, Light and Music; Poetry and Prose’