The backroads from my son’s school to our home are exquisite: hilly and finally green, since we’ve gotten just enough rain to stave off the drought-yellow crisp of last year. And, in one little stretch of field, a host of black cows roam and graze alongside dozens of tiny, frolicking calves. With temperatures in the 70s lately, you’d think I’d be counting my blessings every time I drive that 7 minute stretch (especially considering my last home was in a county so rife with traffic that freeways become parking lots for hours at rush hour).
Instead, I find myself zipping home, breath caught high in my chest, fingers tapping the steering wheel. I drive with the urgency of someone who has life-altering news to impart or receive, anxiety straining in all of my muscles.
Except, nothing, and no one’s life, depends upon me making it home in anything less than the 7 minutes it takes. And no one will care if I go a little more slowly to notice the clouds making wild patterns against the bright shock of blue. No one will be bothered or incapacitated if we slow to wave at the baby cows nibbling on fresh grass.
Then, one day this week, zoned out on allergy medicine, I was almost all the way home when I realized I had driven at a leisurely pace. My breath moved easily, not stuck on any stressful hinge. There was work to do, as always, and hours lost to responsibilities I sometimes resent, but I’d accidentally let myself go slow.
I used to be on very good terms with slowness. My own childhood was an exercise in it—an only child whose parents worked all day, I had to occupy myself without entertainment much of the time. And while life became busier in my twenties with work and creative projects, the first few years of my son’s life forced us to downshift the pace of our lives to the speed of a baby. Children thrive on focused time to lose themselves—inside such space they learn and grow, and their imaginations blossom with the fresh neurons they’ll need as adults. Children hate to be interrupted when they’re playing, and they balk at being rushed—they are marvelous teachers of fully enjoying the moment.
I’m not sure when I began to move with the speed of someone outrunning a gunman—always hurried, always harried—but it suddenly became a way of life, trying to “fit it all in” after my son finally went to school and my work and creative time returned to me. Only, it wasn’t just on the backroads where I found myself hurrying; I was rushing through my shower, and brushing my teeth, through preparing breakfast and putting on clothes, through the grocery store and getting my coffee. There was a whole lot of zooming to and from, and not a lot of arriving, of staying, or standing still.
One day, in our usual rush between places, my son buckled himself into the car and said heavily, “I really hate it when you say we have to rush somewhere. My heart beats so fast.”
I felt the sink of guilt. Nothing like a child’s pointed truth to stop you in your tracks. My son inhabits his experiences so fully—I’ve never seen a person eat a tiny bite of chocolate so slowly, so rapturously as he has ever since he was very little. We’ve always had to give him time between transitions through timers and warnings.
His exclamation made me realize that I didn’t like this rushing either, and that non essential commitments would have to go. We would only accept invitations if we could do them at our leisure, if they didn’t compete for quality time as a rule. I would not be signing him up for a third after-school activity, and weekday social gatherings would be a luxury. I don’t want to spend my life in a car or on the run any more than is absolutely necessary.
To facilitate this new mode of slowness, I gave myself the assignment of really paying attention to my surroundings wherever I am, as often as possible–whether it’s noticing the cracked linoleum of the post office floor, or the joyful expressions on the children’s faces in his gymnastic class. This led me to notice clouds more often. Sounds silly, really, but I’ve become obsessed with clouds—who knew there were so many shapes and kinds, how the sky seems to have moods just like people do? Where once I drove home in a rush, now I’m pulling over to photograph big fat marshmallow clouds, or brooding grey clouds promising much-needed rain. I’ve become so aware of light and shadow that I can tell there’s a gorgeous sunset looming out my west facing back windows by the rosy tint in the front yard, and I often rush back there with my camera just in time.
Only in slowness is true connection or pleasure possible. Savoring the sweet-tart bite of honey crisp apples dipped in creamy peanut butter; the silky feel of my son’s cheek against mine as he insists on our ritual morning cuddle; the powder scent of my husband’s neck when I linger in a hug —why would I want to rush through any of that? There’s just not enough time to be that busy.
Photo credit: “Slow Down” by by Tristan Schmurr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.