My one-year contract with my most recent employer ended last March 11, just last week, and so also ends my year with the graveyard shift. My next employment starts on April 17, and so I have a month to get back on track with my biological clock, and self-imposed commitments to drawing and writing. It’s timing enough that I bust through my writing’s dry spell in wrapping up this series that I started in January.
One of the things that I struggled with being on the graveyard shift is actually staying up to match my loved ones’ schedules. This, I found, was the greatest challenge that I faced. It was strange, actually: I chose this job primarily because I hoped to spend more time with my family, thinking that since my work was at night, it would leave my mornings free.
I was wrong. Looking back, even if I truly am not the one for regrets, I admit to wishing that there were social obligations that were more “present” for.
Here, I learned the importance of being more than just physically present. Yes, I understand that I have done what I could within reason: I need my sleep, and I won’t be one to place demands on my family and friends to adjust their schedules to mine when truly I’m the odd one out. I feel strongly about this as Quality Time is my top love language (always interchanging between being top one or top two, depending on when I take the test, with Physical Touch). It’s not enough for me for us to be sharing the same space. I’m one of those people who quietly mourn when family’s gathered together and would have their noses stuck in their gadgets (quiet offense is taken if this happens when we’re gathered around a meal).
As I write and recall those times when I wish I had done better (eg. not affording to stay longer at a friend’s wedding because I was stopping myself from hitting my face on a plate full of food; all those weekends when I wished I could stay up longer than three hours after lunch to spend time with my nephew), I have also come to two humbling realizations:
1. Relationships are deliberate.
While the rest of the world argues that “love is a feeling”, no other experience in my life so far has taught me the counter-intuitive truth that love is a choice. From my face-to-face interactions to that with my friends online, I always find that saying “yes” to a date and negotiating a schedule, and setting time aside to see how my friends online are doing always boils down to a choice.
There were and there will be times when I really don’t feel like responding to an email, or looking through social media to check on people. It would be because I either feel overwhelmed by my day and would rather withdraw into a book, or I am just too sleepy.
This is where making time for things that matter comes in. I knew coming into this one-year engagement that I would have to make extra effort to spend time with my loved ones, and make sure that I show that I do prioritize them. A former college professor told me once that intentions are no good unless you act on them. It hadn’t rung so true to me until now. Time isn’t something that magically appears if you need it. We all have 24 hours in a day, and it’s up for us to choose as to how we are going to spend it. We all have different priorities, so we have to make sure we deliver on our plans by being mindful and realistic on what we can do given our limitations — in my case, being on the graveyard shift.
2. I’ve learned who my “real” loved ones are
While I figuratively tap my own wrist over interactions that I could have done better, I simply have to appreciate the ones who have extended their understanding and their patience. I’m no good as an actor, so anyone can see when I’m fighting off sleep. It’s one thing to see that, and quite another to not take it against me and misinterpreting my sleepy face and yawning for boredom. I’m also very thankful for those who didn’t make a fuss when I needed to withdraw (prematurely, in my own eyes) because I had already been up for 24 hours, and could no longer distinguish when Friday ended and when Saturday began.
“Real” for this header is in quotation marks for the lack of a concise word. Not that I’m saying that only some of my loved ones are “real”, but I chose the word to define those whom I felt to have gone above and beyond how I expected people to treat me while I’m on my schedule. There is only so much time I can realistically dedicate to hours outside of my daily rhythm, and I have had to issue far more rain checks and IOUs in the past year than in the past five years preceding it.
While some might not see it as a big deal, I appreciate it when friends ask me first as to what would be the best time for me for a date. I am especially grateful if we arrive at negotiating a schedule, or if they tap me first when they manage to find time that happens to match my schedule and choose to spend time with me.
With these lessons, I learned how to find that spot in my mental Venn diagram where choosing love and being more than physically present intersect. While I understand that some friends are fine with me just being there even if I do fall asleep, but please understand that I wish to be present without being one of the furniture. I learned how to express my love language by listening more than talking, by finding out what my loved one would prefer to do and where to do it. Most of all, I learned how to apply the concept of sacrificing in love.
As I wrap this series up, I had started off my year in the graveyard shift as thinking that it would kill me. Instead, I learned to love the sunrise again, to further appreciate my family and friends and realize how much I love them, and to truly value time and to make sure that I spend it in such a way that would honor God by expressing His love and making the best use of His gifts for me.