As I stared at her coffin, I was haunted by two words: too busy.
Her nickname was Mangoes for the fruit grown on her parents’ farm; an exotic creature from the wilds of far north Queensland.
On our first day at university she strode into the lecture theatre, flaming auburn hair and slash of red lipstick – a modern day Greta Garbo. I was a kid from the ‘burbs; she was my first girl crush.
To the sounds of the Go-Betweens, the Saints and the Aloha Pussycats, we cut a swathe through Brisbane’s band scene. She inevitably ended up with the lead singer; me, the monosyllabic drummer*.
After three years of reckless drinking, occasional drug taking, and anti-government protesting, we decided to grow up. Mangoes flourished in the world of the written word, rising through the ranks of newspapers.
I travelled the country, building a career in broadcast journalism.
A decade later, we reunited in Sydney, and from then on every Tuesday, we would share a bottle of wine over lunch – a 90s gris replacing the 80s Green Ginger. It was as if we’d never been apart.
With a rapier wit, she would dissect the issues of the week: the nasty boss in the newsroom; her son’s obsession with tractors; hubby and his gaping boxer shorts. We giggled like schoolgirls.
But life in the big smoke took its toll. Anxiety, and its shadow of addiction, forced the family’s retreat to the country.
Our long and languid phone calls became snatched chats while picking up the kids from school, driving to work, or chopping the veggies.
She was a loyal friend to the end.
But me? Weeks became months. Calls contracted to texts. Emails, to tweets. I was always “too busy”.
As Tim Kreider writes in a New York Times essay entitled The Busy Trap, “it is a boast disguised as a complaint”.
It’s not those working 12-hour overnight shifts, or commuting by bus to three minimum wage jobs, who make this complaint; it’s a middle class affliction.
“They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might face in its absence,” he writes.
We know our boss isn’t going to sit by our deathbed and say, “Thanks for all the hard work”.
Yet we fall into this tempting trap for a temporary boost to our ego. It makes us feel important – wanted, if not needed. Ultimately, it is destructive to our sense of self-worth.
So, I sit in a small funeral home staring at a shiny casket.
I want to pick up the phone and call the woman inside. Like I should have done when she was alive.
But I was always “too busy”.
Sometimes I’d get halfway through dialling the number then realise I had an opinion column to write, a radio interview to line up, or a networking function to attend. What a fool I have been.
Her addictions may have killed her; but mine murdered our friendship.
I schedule in time with friends like it’s a shift at Sky News: “Okay, there’s no work on October 16. I should bring a meal around to Liza to help her recover from her operation. Let’s lock that in for two to 4pm. Then I can knock off a bit of work on the computer afterwards.”
Other friends treat busyness as a competitive sport.
“Oh, busy, busy, busy!” one fluttered, the day after Mangoes’ funeral.
“Of course I have to be in the office for stupidly long hours because those idiots won’t do the job properly. Then every weekend it’s kids’ birthday parties from arsehole to breakfast, swimming lessons, ballet, mandarin class. When does it end?”
It ends when we replace two words with one. Instead of “too busy” we should simply say “no”.
No to unrealistic work expectations; no to junk emails clogging our inbox; and no to rushing around like chooks with our heads cut off.
As Gandhi once wrote, “There is more to life than increasing its speed”.
On his deathbed, Tim Kreider says he’ll wish he could have “one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy”.
I wish I had realised this before one of my friends ended up in a box.
*I apologise for any offence this may cause to drummers.
MORE ARTICLES BY TRACEY SPICER
*Tracey Spicer is a respected journalist who has worked for many years in radio, print and television.
Channel Nine and 10 news presenter and reporter; 2UE and Vega broadcaster; News Ltd. columnist; Sky News anchor …it’s been a dream career for the Brisbane schoolgirl with a passion for news and current affairs.
Tracey is a passionate advocate for issues as diverse as voluntary euthanasia, childhood vaccinations, breastfeeding, better regulation of foreign investment in Australia’s farmland, and curtailed opening hours for pubs and clubs. She is an Ambassador for World Vision, ActionAid, WWF, the Royal Hospital for Women’s Newborn Care Centre and the Penguin Foundation, Patron of Cancer Council NSW and The National Premmie Foundation, and the face of the Garvan Institute’s research into pancreatic cancer, which killed her beloved mother Marcia 11 years ago. But Tracey’s favourite job, with her husband, is bringing up two beautiful children – six-year-old Taj and five-year-old Grace. Visit Tracey’s website at www.spicercommunications.biz or follow her on Twitter @spicertracey.