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I hate being late, I really do. But you’d never know that based on my behaviour.
I am chronically late. Perplexingly late. Shamefully late. And for the past decade, it’s only been getting worse. Running five minutes behind turned into 10, then 15.
When I arrive with a rushed, albeit heartfelt, apology, I often secretly wonder what is wrong with me. Do I actually enjoy the heart palpitations and shortness of breath that come from coursing, white-knuckled, through Toronto traffic? Why can’t I be more like my girlfriend Sarah, always early or right on time, and proudly so?
It doesn’t help my case that I am a married mother of four boys. I really should know better.
Every morning I screech, “You’re gonna be late!” at my kids from the bottom of the hallway stairs. I’m forcing punctuality on them, and yet sadly lack it in my own life.
Well, the running and rushing that comes with my constant tardiness came to a dizzying halt this week.
I was late for an appointment. I had left late, of course, magically believing for the millionth time that I could get downtown from my east-end home in under 20 minutes in midmorning traffic, with construction along the way. A flying carpet would have helped.
“I’m so, so sorry I’m late,” I assured the calm but unsympathetic woman behind the desk. I was breathing hard, hoping a little drama might help. “I was on the wrong street, in the wrong parking garage. I’ve been walking around for 10 minutes trying to find you.”
All of that was true, but it didn’t matter. The soft-spoken receptionist locked eyes with me.
“I’m sorry. You missed your appointment.”
“Ple-e--ease. You can’t squeeze me in?” I begged, pathetically. I was in full denial and wasn’t going to let this go easily.
“You were supposed to be here at 11:45. We only allow 15 minutes before we cancel an appointment. It’s now 10 past noon. There’s really nothing I can do.”
It was a personal best – 25 minutes late for a 10-minute appointment.
It should have been an instant wake-up call – a brilliant opportunity to break down right then and there and swear I’d seen the light, that hallelujah I had changed.
After all, If I loved my friends and respected other people’s schedules, how could I keep showing up late? Was I that insensitive, or was I just trying to squeeze too much into my day?
I preferred to think it was the latter: that I always left home at a reasonable time, but got derailed by needing to stop and grab milk at the corner store, drop off books at the library or fill the gas tank. I thought time would somehow expand for me.
It’s a stressful way to live. All that anxiety, apologizing and occasional animosity couldn’t possibly be good for one’s health.
But as I left the aesthetician ’s office I was still doggedly determined to deny I had a problem.
I decided to salvage my excursion and drive to a nearby coffee shop to do some work on my laptop. Why not? I’d taken all this time to get downtown. Maybe I could turn the day around and make the missed appointment worthwhile. Never mind that traffic was barely moving and that I couldn’t find street parking.
The heart palpitations were back, but the more obstacles were thrown in my way, the less prepared I was to admit I was the author of my own misfortune.
Within a few moments of taking the first sip at the coffee shop, while hastily organizing my stuff on the small table, I managed to topple the cup. A few drops dribbled onto my laptop. I dried them quickly, assuring myself no harm was done. But then my keypad started spewing out gibberish.
It seems keyboards are sensitive creatures that don’t like coffee much. Mine would be almost as costly to repair as to replace.
And there it was, in black and white. I finally had a price tag for one morning’s worth of time mismanagement – $1,194 for a caffe latte, metered parking and a new computer.
It was my Oprah Aha moment.
“I can’t go on like this,” I realized. I had finally bottomed out.
The next day, I left 10 to 15 minutes early for every place I needed to be. Moving slowly, I happily encouraged cars to cut in front of me. I was in no rush. They needed the extra time more than I did.
I felt peaceful, happy. I could finally revel in the joys of being prompt and reliable.
When I arrived at a friends’ get-together that afternoon exactly three minutes early, I marvelled at how easy it was to find parking when I wasn’t trying so hard. In fact, a space right in front of her house was free and ready for me.
I glided into the spot seconds before my notoriously punctual girlfriend, Sarah, could grab it.
She was stunned. I knew what she was thinking: “What are YOU doing here?”
And I could finally say it: “I’m on time.”
Better late than never.
Angela Yazbek lives in Toronto.
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