Sometimes you don’t know how fast you’re moving until an opposing force stops you. Just when you’re comfortable setting your own pace, you feel the rush of air stirred by other runners passing and leaving you in their wake. Re-engaged by the competition, you pick up your speed. As the finish line comes into view you know you won’t be the first to cross it. Worse than not winning the race is realizing that during its progress, you failed to notice the lane markers’ day-glow yellow, the fragrance of the recently mowed grass that framed the track, and the spectators’ decibel smashing cheers as the pack of runners rounded the track.
This race scene is a metaphor, of course, that parallels the way some of us live our lives. (Okay, I’m referring to myself, a charter member of the Type A Club.) Whether employed or retired, we become so fixated on reaching a destination, finishing a book, earning a certain sum of money, that we become blind, deaf, and insensitive to all that surrounds us during our journey to the various goals. We operate in one gear only… fifth.
Aside from giving in to our natural tendencies, we’ve adjusted our habits to fit our high pressure environment. Every computer we buy must process data faster than our previous machine. Every new printer has to print more pages per minute than our older one. A one-cup coffee maker brews faster than the carafe model and we need to drink that caffeine in order to navigate our way through the day’s tasks as quickly as possible.
Why use a traditional oven to bake, cook, or re-heat a meal when a microwave oven can perform those chores in mere minutes? Why visit a retail store when we can “windows/apple” shop online and order what we need in a fraction of the time it would take to drive to the mall.
Are you scheduled to have major surgery any time soon? You can be admitted and discharged the same day. That happened to a former neighbor of mine who endured a double-mastectomy. She was in the OR at seven that morning and sitting in her family room by three that afternoon.
When did this hurry-up-quick mindset begin? Was it during the 1950’s when the U.S.S.R.’s Sputnik left the U.S. scrambling to speed up its space program? Was there really a need to call that period the “space race?” Did Cliff Notes (1960’s) and their antecedent, The Readers’ Digest, encourage us to skip the entire meal of a book in favor of sampling a small bit of each course and then leaving the table early?
No matter when or how our culture bought into “speed is good,” I know I drank that particular flavor of Kool-Aid. Over the course of this last year, I’ve questioned how I go about my writing projects. I’ve jumped right in and sped through the process with the speed of an Olympic bobsledder rushing bullet-fast across the finish line. I’ve worked at a feverish pace, as if an invisible specter were chasing me.
Almost breathless, I’ve torn through the revisions, made suggested editorial changes, approved the final drafts, and clicked the manuscript back to be published. I’ve never missed a single deadline. Au contraire, I’ve always been early.
In between projects I would read Facebook posts written by other authors. During a typical FB session, I’d see, “…wrote three thousand words today,” or “…finished my eighth novel. Now I’ll get back to my play, my weekly blog, and the two short stories I’ve begun.”
These posts, or rather the speed with which these writers produced their work amazed me. Was I a slacker, or did the decades younger ages of these other writers account for their prolific and fast creative output? Nope, I wasn’t a slacker. I was a retiree trying to make some sense of all the haste that has accompanied my second career.
Just as I determined the downside of hurrying, one of life’s most poignant circumstances intervened and forced me to ask myself a few questions. How many opportunities would I have to look, listen, smell, taste, and feel the world’s offerings? How many times would I be able to appreciate and express my gratitude for the gifts I’d been given? It was time for values clarification. It was time for me to slow my roll.
It’s difficult to reverse habits and there are days when I still feel myself spinning at the speed of an atomic particle accelerator. When I have those moments I stop, take a breath, and gaze through my windows. This time of year I marvel at the bright crimson clusters that cling to the Winterberry Holly, the snow that rests astride the pine trees’ branches, and the persistence of green in the small bed of Lenten Roses.
I feel calm settle over me when I glimpse cardinals, juncos, black-capped chickadees, and downy woodpeckers hanging onto the rungs of the bird feeders. I know I can stroll toward the little stream at the far edge of the backyard and try to solve the mystery surrounding who or what left footprints in the snow.
Purposefully I take the time to listen to the silence, broken only by the sugar maple’s dried leaves as they resist their fate and brush against the branches. I feel the cold wind cover my face and summon my cheeks’ red response. And when I return to the warmth of the house, I smell the remnants of the morning’s pot of coffee.
I’ve downshifted in an effort to live life in first gear, second if I must. I hope I’ve left behind the kind of haste that conceals my awareness of life’s little miracles and the pleasures that fill friendships. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, I aspire to “…live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” (Walden, 1854.)
I’ve written this blog while thinking about my mother, Lorraine Bess, who departed this life on January 24, 2017, one year and a day ago. All is well with her soul.
Renée Bess is the author of short fiction, some poetry, and five novels, including “The Butterfly Moments” and “The Rules,” (Regal Crest, Publisher) Her latest project is an anthology, “Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars,” (Flashpoint Publications,) which she co-curated with writer Lee Lynch. Renée invites visitors to her website, http://www.reneebess.com.