At the Margin

-the part of a page that is above, below, or to the side of the printed part
-the place where something (such as a piece of land) stops : the edge of something
-an extra amount of something (such as time or space) that can be used if it is needed
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – Seneca


The ‘edge’ of France – where the Rhone River dumps out into the Mediterranean Sea

Last Tuesday night Andrew came into my office and said, “George Winston is playing a benefit concert in Davidson tomorrow night. Want to go?” Less than twenty-four hours later we were enjoying a wonderful date night – dinner at a small chic restaurant, followed by a warm Spring evening stroll to the church where Winston performed all of our favorite pieces.

By itself, this is no big deal. We do go out together as a couple, now and then, but not nearly as often as we should. What was unusual was the pure spontaneity of it all.

For pretty much as long as I can remember, we have had to plan in advance for an evening out. For many years, it was the boys and the dogs who kept us tied to the house – coordinating who was doing what when, who was making sure the dogs were let out and fed, who was going to be home to keep a sharp eye out for unsupervised teen-age activities.

The boys are grown now. Watching over the boys – and our property – was replaced in the last year by watching over the dog. Andrew, Jake and I had to carefully coordinate our individual work and play schedules to take care of our aging and sick dog Rowdy.

But Rowdy is gone now. We lost her two weeks ago, and are still trying to get used to her absence. We now have no joint responsibilities, beyond our jobs, tying us to the house or to a schedule.

Many empty-nesters would celebrate this hard-fought and well-earned situation. Life has brought us to a new edge, to a new and blank page, just waiting for us to write in it.

But first you have to get used to it.

Some people are really good at rolling with the seasons of life – accepting change and stepping bravely out a new door when the old one is shut.

But some of us need a bit of time to gather our thoughts and contemplate the view from the new threshold.

I have been holding this new feeling of spaciousness in my heart, pondering both its gifts and its pitfalls. I’ve been contemplating how to sit with, how to accept, and to even welcome more space into my life.

What would it be like to deliberately allow more margin – more white space – onto the pages of my current life story? Or, should I rush to fill it with something? I am only familiar with a book where the pages are filled to the brim.

Dr. Richard Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, defines margin as “the space that exists between ourselves and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed.  It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations.  Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

I have never had a reserve or a contingency. It feels rather decadent and selfish to permit one now. Waiting has never been my strong suit. But something is telling me now to wait, to sit and listen attentively within this new margin of space. To let it grow and ripen, like a flower bud, into something new. To leave some room for surprise, spontaneity and serendipity to offer their blessings.


I have loved the wisdom coming from the online course I’ve been taking from The Abbey of the Arts, called “The Soul’ Slow Ripening: A Lenten Retreat.” Here’s an excerpt from this week’s lesson:

The invitation into ripening as a symbol of our own discernment journey, means we must be willing to attend to our own nourishment and care until the season is ripe. Not a moment before or after, which is why our loving and mindful attention becomes so important, and why we must stay present through the discomfort of it all….If we move too quickly into the work we feel called to do, without the necessary preparation, without the demanding soul work that lays a strong foundation, we actually do ourselves and others harm.

The word ‘margin’ can mean the edge, or the end of something, or an ‘extra’ amount of something, like time or space. In Economics, the concept of margin is fundamental to understanding human behavior. What does it mean to think at the margin? It means to think about your next step forward. The word “marginal” means “additional.” When you think at the margin, you are thinking about what the next or additional action means for you. To think at the margin means to let the past go and to think forward to the next hour, day, year, or dollar that you expend in time or money. If you think at the margin, you are actually thinking ahead.

I took my camera out in the backyard the Sunday after Rowdy died, and watched Ben’s new puppy Bear frolic around the space where Rowdy used to reign. He sat and gave greeting through the fence to the neighbor’s dog; he irreverently crunched on the stalks of dead flowers, while sniffing curiously at the new. Signs of new life and ripening were everywhere in my garden. I was forced to feel the turning of the season, to see the evidence of the old turning into the new.



But you can’t force Spring.

Buds push up through the hard ground and open at their own pace. It can seem very slow – and sort of boring – if you watch it day by day. But it will happen nonetheless, in its own time.


George Winston’s music is often called ‘poems for the piano”. He is famous for his Seasons albums. “”Every song I’ve ever heard, that has gone in and stayed in me, has always reminded me of a season. A picture and a place, maybe, but always a season.” On Wednesday night, we were privileged to hear several of his songs from Winter into Spring. Now, how’s that for some serendipity?

So for now, I think I’ll just stand at, and in, the margins of my personal story book, and wait and see what happens as the season of Spring emerges. 

For once, maybe I’ll give space a chance to ripen and spill forth a surprising new chapter.


3 thoughts on “At the Margin

  1. When we decided to go “full time” in our RV about six months ago, I had no idea how much it would change our lives. Our residence is now a tiny mail box in a strip mall. We can disconnect all shore connections and move in about ten minutes. All of our current friends live in trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes, and come and go. Our worldly possessions fit in a small storage unit outside Austin TX — and we’re working on that.

    Our margins are now just about limitless.

  2. I needed your post this morning. I needed the reminder that I need empty places where light can trickle in and new life can sprout. The poem in your post is so beautiful. Such a lovely reminder that blooming has its own timetable, and waiting has its own purpose.

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