Some deadlines are of the utmost importance. Others are like fine wine – let it “rest” and then tackle it. If it’s late you can always beg for forgiveness and proceed. I have joked about deadlines; “deadline means get started!” This deadline was extremely important to me. It meant everything for my future.
As a magazine editor, I grant forgiveness with almost every issue. As a teacher, I grant forgiveness to my students who turn in late work on a daily basis. As a human being, I understand that sometimes just a little more time, cutting the slack, is a major virtue. I believe I possess that virtue. From my heart, I understand that a few more minutes, hours, or days could make the difference for someone in need.
Now that the table has turned, I am the one who stared down the deadline before my eyes. I recognize just how vulnerable we are to life. When your days are finished and Father Time is knocking at your life’s door, there is no slack to cut. I know sometimes we can “cheat” death. I believe sometimes that we “cheat” death and might not even be aware of the magnitude of that “cheating,” like taking a wrong turn and avoiding an accident, or being saved from a life threatening illness and being restored to health. I have been the recipient of both of those. My life-threatening illness was a systemic blood infection – a result of a bone infection. I had no idea I was so close to death until after the infection was brought under control.
Behind this deadline was something I have wanted so badly I have prayed for and thought of little else for several years, seven to be exact. It was the very core of my life’s mission. So how, then, could I miss it? I had months to prepare for it! I spent untold hours on the website reading and rereading everything I could about this “opportunity.” I longed for it and I was obsessed with it.
True, it was way outside of my comfort zone. I worried about the formalities of realizing this dream. How would I meet the demands that it would bring? How would I adjust to those demands? What truly would be the future results of this endeavor? Was it within my ability to accomplish this goal? I could not answer any of those questions, yet in my heart, I just knew that I had to succeed in this goal. I had to. I was so absorbed in this objective, I thought of little else. I dreamed about it, I fantasized about it, and I believed with all my heart that it was the “right” thing to do. How then, could I not succeed?
I have missed my publisher’s deadlines. I have missed the IRS tax filing deadlines – a few times. I have missed deadlines at my day job. I have missed paying some bills on time and had utilities cut off resulting in paying late fees and re-connection charges. I have missed my fair share of life’s deadlines.
I believe it is safe to say I have met many more deadlines than I have missed. I have been on time to work this year every single day, and isn’t that a deadline? In fact, while I might have been late for work during the past seven years at my present job, I have never been so late as to miss the tardy bell to begin my classes. I was late for one class during my graduate degree studies due to a slow moving truck on a twenty-plus-mile stretch of a Georgia two-lane back road with no passing possibility, and I was late with one assignment due to technical issues with the program I was using. I think those are pretty good feats. I have managed to produce six magazines a year for the past ten years well within the time frame considered “on time,” and all of those issues were dependent upon others making their deadlines.
Missing my “golden” opportunity was something that was so far out of my comprehension that I determined it would not be even a remote possibility, and I rested assured that it would not, could not happen. I completed the requirements and received confirmation that my package was complete and final. The big red “Send” button urged me onward. I rechecked the package the night before. I began this process months ago, and had carefully saved each component multiple times. I was assured each time that I had, indeed, correctly saved each of the six sections. I carefully checked my attachment multiple times. Everything was in perfect order. I am, after all, a secondary English teacher. I am an accomplished magazine editor. I pride myself in my ability to scrutinize the fine details. I am a master of all things that include words (or so I believe). I am quite capable of reading directions, and certainly understand the meaning of the word “COMPLETE” to mean just that. How can “complete” mean anything other than complete? There is no ambiguity in the word COMPLETE. It’s one of those black or white words. It’s either complete or it’s not. You are either pregnant or you are not.
My objectives were thwarted for the entire week. I desperately needed to speak with someone who would be directly involved in my mission. He was either out of the office, with someone else, or in a meeting every single time I attempted to speak with him. As a classroom teacher, there are very limited times during the day that we can be outside of the classroom. Period. I decided I should speak to the person “above” him. She did not return my calls. As the Friday deadline neared, Thursday was cutting it too close for comfort. When I failed to speak to this person, I left work feeling defeated. I had one day left. I would have three opportunities to speak to him. Friday arrived. He was, again, unavailable before school. During my planning period, a guidance counselor spent the entire period with me speaking about a student in trouble. I could not cut her short. Oh, I tried. I failed. Immediately after school I raced to speak to him, but it was Friday! He was long gone. I decided I would hit the big red send button first, and speak to him second. I would hit the send button to make the deadline and ask for forgiveness if need be later.
Again, I had a delay. A very important conversation with another teacher consumed nearly one hour of the one hour and ten minutes I had remaining to meet my deadline. I was down to seven minutes to accomplish my objective. Seven minutes to realize my dream come true of seven years. Ironic things sometimes confound me. The true meaning of irony is the difference between what you were expecting and what you get. It is looking like my whole life is one huge game of irony. I am not a fan of irony. Oh, I enjoy pointing it out in literature to my students. I enjoy making a mockery of irony when it shows its ugly head throughout my life, but this time, irony mocked me.
I question where I went wrong (kind of been doing that my whole life). I question and berate myself simultaneously. I should have done this… or that. Why didn’t I do it this way… or that way? I knew exactly what missing this deadline would mean. It would mean most of all that my seven years would turn into eight. And that would probably in turn mean nine and then ten years. Life is way too short to lose years at a time. I think back to my life being spared from the blood infection. Was I saved for this? “This” which is so repulsive to me that I marvel at how I have endured it for so long. Life is precious and dear. I think back to the reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with that line. The monster declares that life is precious to him and he intends to defend his at all costs. I don’t feel the preciousness was saved for the “this” that I endure. That thought disgusts me. How dare I? I know more than most people how extremely precious life truly is and how each and every moment must be savored. I stop and smell roses. I linger where I travel taking in the sites, the smells, the people. I love life. I thank God, my Almighty Creator, for granting me an extension of what could have been my final deadline nearly ten years ago. I thank God each and every day for the two additional lives he put into my care five years ago. I am truly appreciative. I just don’t understand my present purpose. It is not mine to understand.
Down to four minutes remaining, I pushed the “Big Red Button” immediately after rechecking for the umpteenth time and receiving confirmation that my files were “complete.” The reply message splashed across the screen, “FILES INCOMPLETE.”