#50. Being late

I am nothing if not a living example of irony. To wit: I am a terrible procrastinator who cannot bear to be late. It isn’t just that it bothers me to be tardy – it’s as though I physically cannot be late. My body, my mind and/or the universe all conspire to make sure that I am an early arriver. As is my habit, I shall present some back story and completely made up theoretical psychobabble to explain how I’ve come to be this way. I believe it stems from a) coming from a long line of genetically impatient people with impeccable manners, for whom being late was simply unacceptable and b) being a painfully shy youngster who couldn’t stand to garner extra attention.

When I was a kid, I hated, hated, hated when all eyes were on me, so there was nothing worse than arriving at school or to a group activity late and inviting scrutiny. I learned early (ha!) on that the best way to avoid drawing attention to yourself was to arrive early and inconspicuously and, preferably, find a seat in the back..

Now, those who employed me during my drinking days will claim – quite fairly, too – that I seemed to have no problem whatsoever being late to work. Habitually. And while I want to claim extenuating circumstances, I also want to note that just because I was late didn’t mean it didn’t cause me a wave of nausea and panic every time. In other words, I was late, but I still hated it.

As an adult, not being late has its benefits. I usually get a good seat at concerts or movies. And now I can’t think of any more. So I suppose it has its benefit.

It also has its drawbacks. It’s hard work being the first at every party, and more than a little awkward to show up while the hostess is still in curlers. In addition, it’s tough on the ego to weather the pitying glances of wait staff who presume, after ten minutes or so, that your “friend” is a figment of your imagination.

But those are not the real issues that spurred me to make this change. I actually quite like being prompt. I remain convinced that being late is, more often than not, simply disrespectful of other people’s time. In case you hadn’t noticed, I like to feel really, really superior about how considerate and thoughtful I am.

The part I can’t stand is the panic and anxiety I get when I think I’m going to be late for something. Clearly, my brain is convinced this is life-threatening stuff and if I’m not on time – if not early – the world will grind to a screeching halt.

Ideally, I would prefer to be someone who could just chill the hell out. A person who is generally on time but not so fearful of being late that she’s painfully early. A person who, if she is late, doesn’t feel like it’s the end be all, an act of unforgivable discourteousness.

Thus, I decided to dedicate a week to trying to be late and at the risk of delivering spoilers, I will say this: it was much harder than I expected. In fact, one could say, I pretty much can’t do it. But back to the blow-by-blow coverage. Fortunately, this past week, I had a minefield of opportunities ahead of me. I had lunch appointments scheduled for three days in a row. I vowed to be the second to arrive at each one.

On the first day, I put my plan in action. Bear in mind I live in a small town. My first lunch destination was a mere five minutes away from my house by car. Normally I’d leave about 15 minutes beforehand, worrying myself silly about finding parking, etc. Now I was living recklessly – I left with only ten minutes to spare!  There was no way I would find street parking during lunch hour, so I’d have to walk several blocks or park in a garage. There was no way I’d be on time, let alone early.

Except…the universe hates me. Or loves me. Whichever way you wanna look at it. Because just as I was growing tense, feeling a little fearful as the clock crawled towards noon, there it was, the nearly-unheard of phenomenon in downtown Ann Arbor during lunchtime: princess parking. A prime spot directly in front of the door to the restaurant. On my first pass. Didn’t even have to turn around.

I was parked and inside the restaurant a full five minutes early. Seriously! Why, oh, why! I shook my fists at the sky. My life is so difficult sometimes.

Now, that evening I had a meeting to go to. This was a large meeting of the recovery variety, which I attend regularly. These meetings are often the playground for my pet peeves. People are chronically late to them, shuffling in loudly whenever they so please, disrupting the person trying to open the meeting, horning in at corners of already-full tables, forcing everyone to scoot around.

Me? I get to meetings unbelievably early to ensure I’ll have a seat and that I won’t upset anyone else with my behavior. In fact, I’ve been known in the past to skip a meeting entirely if circumstances made me late. Yes, I’d rather risk my sobriety than bother someone by coming late. I have excellent priorities.

I would like to say that I really challenged myself by giving being late a shot. I did want to teach myself that sometimes people can’t help being late to meetings – because of work or transportation issues. That it isn’t just a lack of respect or consideration. I wanted to teach myself that it was a forgivable sin, hoping to gain more compassion for others by understanding that lateness sometimes happens. People aren’t being late at other people and certainly not at me. They’re just late.

But I couldn’t do it. Why? Because it turns out I do believe it’s disrespectful to show up late if you can avoid it, and this would have been manufactured tardiness just for the sake of a blog entry. It didn’t seem worth it to me.

The next day, I tried again, leaving for my lunch date later still … but somehow not early enough. I was beginning to suspect that there was a strange rip in the time-space continuum somewhere between my house and my car. How could I arrive somewhere around the same time I thought I left? Was the universe just gas-lighting me? So I began circling the block, passing up primo parking spots in order to kill time.

I wasn’t panicked or anxious. I was frustrated. I felt like an idiot. How was stalling and burning gas really preferable to the “shame” of being early? I gave up. Went inside. I was one minute late and, of course, the first to arrive. Frankly, this trying to be late thing was exhausting.

The next day was my final lunch date of the week. This time I left with only five minutes to spare. THAT IS INSANE, PEOPLE! And, sure enough, there was no parking to be found. Even the parking structures were full. I was already two minutes late and still driving around aimlessly. My stomach was doing flips, I tell you, anxiety building. I was being CRAZY. It didn’t feel good, but it felt WILD. Wild, I tell you! There was NO WAY I could possibly be the first to arrive.

Except, as I was circling, I got a text from the friend I was supposed to be meeting. I assumed she was wondering where I was. But, no. She was running a few minutes late and was now circling looking for parking. Dammit! I slowed down my search for a spot, finally pulling into a garage and snaking my way to the top. My heart was pounding and I had to fight the feeling that I was going to be in really big trouble. Finally, I found a spot and took my sweet time strolling the two blocks to the restaurant.

And when I arrived, I was a full ten minutes late…and my friend was nowhere in sight. She arrived a few minutes later, apologizing like crazy, explaining her own struggle for parking. Crap. Fail. I mean, yeah, I was late, but she was later.

Sparing you the details, so went the rest of the week. I tried to be late for stuff and felt like a dolt. It was seriously as though I wasn’t able to figure out how to do it. I’m smart enough to lace my own sneakers, but I can’t figure this out?

I think, in conclusion – and I’m quite certain my more scientific friends would wholeheartedly agree – that this was a really poorly designed experiment. The parameters were unclear. I know plenty of people who are habitually late and I didn’t consult a single one of them for pointers. And halfway through it all, I couldn’t remember why on earth I thought this was a change for the better.

After all, I don’t hate being punctual. I hate the panicky feeling I get when I think I’m going to be late. I hate being a person who feels like she has to be punctual. And nothing I did this week really addressed those feelings or attempted to change them in any way. I never wound up having the earth-shattering opportunity that taught me that I could be late and the world would soldier on, friends would laugh and forgive me and somewhere in an alternate universe, a shy eight-year-old would not turn beet red and crumble with shame when the eyes of her classmates fell on her.

In other words, on the whole, I think this week was a failure in that I didn’t really end up changing much of anything. I’m counting it as a pseudo-win thought, because it turns out I don’t actually mind that much.