by Sam Melden

“Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word. I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.” - Mary Oliver.

My friend posted that Oliver quote with a picture of her snow covered front yard this morning. It’s a beautiful scene with a wonderful quote.

Then, I have this other friend who is a journalist and she was experiencing this snowy day quite differently. Under a Level 3 snow emergency she still has to go to work. She has to go outside, carve and chisel her way out of her driveway and then drive in terrible conditions to get to the job. Because, her line of work is considered “essential.” And the rules are: under a Level 3 all “non-essential” employees have to stay home. Non-essential. I love that someone decided to use that language to describe who should and shouldn’t be on the roads under such conditions.

Because, sometimes, we all need to be reminded we are not essential.

The goals, ideas and projects we are all working on can wait. The mad rush of a Monday morning can always be brought to a halt. Your hustle can be slowed. Your emails can pile up. Your deadlines can be bent. Your calendar can be shuffled. All of those tasks, those very important & essential to do’s… just aren’t that important and essential.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to juggle to do’s like a circus clown. I love lining up calendars and plotting out tasks. My video game of choice is “Inbox Zero.” I love to be productive, efficient, blah, blah blah. Which is why this reminder is so important. The work I do, the stuff on my “plate” is not nearly as essential as I think it is.

And, one more thing… this reminder about being non-essential also brings a wonderful invitation. When the world shuts down around us we are given the opportunity to attend to the work within us. The work that is essential.

After all, what is often true about those to do lists and meetings and emails and phone calls is that when while we run toward them it is possible we are running away from something else. Leaving behind the most essential work of all… the work that no one else could do. This “Level-3-non-essential” reality also reminds us that we have a small handful of very, very essential “to-do’s.” There is only one person who can be the spouse in your marriage, the parent to your children, the citizen who represents your mailing address out in the community… only one. So, while we get to put down the hurry of Monday, and let the voodoos of ambition sleep… we also get to pick up those things that are essential.

And hopefully, when the snow emergency is dropped down a notch, the roads are safe again and the pace starts to pick up… hopefully we don’t soon forget the still small voice that settled in with the winter storm. The voice that tells us what is, and what isn’t essential.