About the Author
Richard A. Swenson, M.D. is a physician, a futurist, and the author of The Overload Syndrome, Hurtling Toward Oblivion, More Than Meets the Eye, and A Minute of Margin. Dr. Swenson and his wife, Linda, live in Menomonie, Wisconsin. They are the parents of two sons, Adam and Matthew.
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MARGINRestoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives
By RICHARD A. SWENSON
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Richard A. Swenson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMARGINLESS LIVING
THE CONDITIONS OF modern-day living devour margin. If you are homeless, we send you to a shelter. If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps. If you are breathless, we connect you to oxygen. But if you are marginless, we give you yet one more thing to do.
Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor's office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station-and you forgot your wallet.
Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.
Marginless is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time; margin is Grandma taking the baby for the afternoon. Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift; margin is a friend to carry half the burden. Marginless is not having time to finish the book you're reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.
Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.
Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.
Marginless is hurry; margin is calm.
Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.
Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture.
Marginless is the disease of the new millennium; margin is its cure.
Pieces of Broken Humanity
It was my lunch hour on a beautiful autumn day, but I didn't mind. A bloody towel clutched over a bloody face revealed the need.
At seventy-six, John was slim, fit, and active. Following retirement and a heart attack, he determined to take care of himself and have fun at the same time. It was Wisconsin in the summer and Florida in the winter, but mostly it was golf every day.
As his wife was otherwise occupied, John challenged Glen to eighteen holes. Approaching the first hole, John drove his ball down the middle of the fairway and then moved to the side. Glen prepared his ball, lifted the club, and swung vigorously. The ball, however, angled hard to the right and struck John in the eye. Blood instantly came gushing out as his eyeball dropped into his hand.
by the time they arrived at the clinic, Glen was still as white as a sheet. The injured John, however, was obviously enjoying himself-even though covered with blood.
"I guess Glen never knew I had an artificial eye," he twinkled. "I popped it out to make sure it wasn't broken. I didn't really mean to scare him like that."
Rarely a day goes by that I don't pick up some broken pieces of humanity and attempt to put them back together again. In John's case, the wounds turned out to be humorous, and his lacerated eyebrow was easily sutured. Unfortunately, not all patients have stories that are humorous. And not all "broken pieces" are so easily repaired.
Some people come in for broken legs; others, broken hearts. Some have irritable colons; others, irritable spouses. Some have bleeding ulcers; others, bleeding emotions. And compounding these wounds, many patients show signs of a new disease: marginless living.
How often do I see the effects of marginless living? About every fifteen minutes. Into my office on a regular basis comes a steady parade of exhausted, hurting people. The reason these patients come to me, however, is not to discuss their lack of margin. They don't even know what margin is. Instead, they come because of pain. Most don't realize that pain and the absence of margin are related.
The Unexpected Pain of Progress
That our age might be described as painful comes as a discomforting surprise when we consider the many advantages we have over previous generations. Progress has given us unprecedented affluence, education, technology, and entertainment. We have comforts and conveniences other eras could only dream about. Yet somehow, we are not flourishing under the gifts of modernity as one would expect.
Why do so many of us feel like air-traffic controllers out of control? How can the salesman feel so stressed when the car is loaded with extras, the paycheck is bigger than ever, and vacation lasts four weeks a year? How is it possible that the homemaker is still tired despite the help of the washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner? If we are so prosperous, why are the therapists' offices so full? If we have ten times more material abundance than our ancestors, why are we not ten times more content and fulfilled?
Something has gone wrong. If you know what pain wounds look like, you will see them on all your friends. This book is dedicated to exposing and correcting the specific kind of pain that comes from marginless living. Why? Because we find ourselves in the midst of an unnamed epidemic. The disease of marginless living is insidious, widespread, and virulent.
The New Universal Constant
The marginless lifestyle is a relatively new invention and one of progress's most unreasonable ideas. Yet in a very short time it has become a nearly universal malady. Few are immune. It is not limited to a certain socioeconomic group, nor to a certain educational level. Even those with a deep spiritual faith are not spared. Its pain is impartial and nonsectarian-everybody gets to have some.
Do you know families who feel drawn and quartered by overload? Do you know wage earners who are overworked, teachers who are overstressed, farmers who are overextended, pastors who are overburdened, or mothers of young children who are overwhelmed? Chances are the pathogen of marginless living is largely responsible.
One would think that physicians, the acknowledged pain experts, would be exempt. Not so. As a profession, we suffer deeply from the absence of margin. Consequently, I know of the extent and seriousness of this condition from three sources. First, I have observed it in the lives of patients. Second, I saw its effects in the lives of the interns and residents I taught for fifteen years. Third, I know of the weight of marginless living because for a long time it sat on my chest. Decades ago I paid the ransom and purchased back margin, a decision that cost me significant income. Yet it was one of the wisest purchases I've ever made. I have no regrets.
Why All the Fuss?
Because most of us do not yet know what margin is, we also do not know what marginless is. We feel distressed, but in ill-defined ways. We can tell life isn't quite what it used to be or perhaps not quite what we expected it should be. Then we look at our cars, homes, and big screen TVs and conclude that our distress must be in our imaginations.
Others deny vehemently that anything is wrong. "Life has always been hard," they say. "People have always been stressed. It is simply part of living. There has always been change to cope with. There have always been economic problems, and people have always battled depression. It is the nature of life to have its ups and downs-so why all the fuss?"
I'm not the one who's making the fuss; I'm only writing about it. I'm only being honest about what I see all around me. Something's wrong. People are tired and frazzled. People are anxious and depressed. People don't have the time to heal anymore. There is a psychic instability in our day that prevents peace from implanting itself very firmly in the human spirit. And despite the skeptics, this instability is not the same old nemesis recast in a modern role. What we have here is a brand-new disease.
To be sure, the pains of the past were often horrible beyond description. To have your wife die in childbirth, your children crippled with polio, your cattle ravaged by tuberculosis, and your crops leveled by locusts is not the common definition of the good life. But those were the pains of the past, and most of them are gone. Unfortunately-and unexpectedly-the pains of progress are now here to take their place. Prominent among them is the disease of marginless living.
The Focusing Value of Pain
No one likes pain. We all want to get rid of it as soon as possible. But physical pains are usually there for a reason, to tell us something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Emotional, relational, and societal pains, too, are often indicators that all is not well. As such, they serve a valuable purpose-they help us focus.
Modern-day living, however, opposes focusing. Surrounded by frenzy and interruptions, we have no time for anything but vertigo. So our pain, it turns out, is actually an ally of sorts. In the hurt is a help. Pain first gets our attention-as it does so well-and then moves us in the opposite direction of the danger.
If you were my patient, you would come to me already focused on your pain. You would want me to explain it and make it go away. My responsibility would be to listen to your symptoms, diagnose your problem, and offer a prescription. And because drawing diagrams often helps us to understand, I might write it on a prescription pad for you to remember. Perhaps it would look something like this:
Rx: From the Desk of... Richard A. Swenson, M.D.
Is There a Cure?
If we focus and work to understand, is this painful disease of marginless living curable? Is health possible? Of course it is. But the kind of health I speak of will seldom be found in "progress" or "success." For that reason, I'm not sure how many are willing to take the cure. But at least we all deserve a chance to understand the disease.
Excerpted from MARGIN by RICHARD A. SWENSON Copyright © 2004 by Richard A. Swenson. Excerpted by permission.
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