I am slowing down, and it feels good and is about time. It is, in fact, precisely about “time.”
James Taylor was right: The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.
Like everyone else I’ve ever known I’ve been excessively guilty of being caught up in the swirl and turmoil of life: the conflicts at work, the bills, the inundation of news, the negativity, the road rage, the “endless trains of the faithless, the cities filled with the foolish.” And I had mastered the art of adjustment. That is, I managed to dial-up my stress tolerance to accommodate increased worldly distraction and anger. In fact, the level at which I managed to maintain sanity despite the stress could have exploded the heart of a younger me. We don’t see it happening, do we? The slow dripping of tense interaction in the news and conversations makes its mark only over months and years, so that the only way to recognize how crazy it all became is to step away long enough to say, “I don’t even recognize who I’ve become.”
That was me; guilty.
My slow erosion of anger and anxiety has occurred in several stages. First, there was Spain. The pilgrimage for a month across the Pyrenees with my son at three miles an hour taught me to let go of nearly all possessions, worries, and regrets. “Simplicity” became my ambition, and I achieved it in some small way. But of course, out there, in Basque country and Galacia, it isn’t difficult, when all we had to do all day was walk, talk, meet people, stop in cafes and chapels, and let go of life. For all my worldly ambitions, I knew then I could live like that forever.
But I came home.
It didn’t take long for work issues to seep back into my psyche and anger to swell my attitude. The ridiculous often dominates our conversations and conditions, so much so that tunnel vision takes over and suddenly all that matters is one particular, otherwise irrelevant battle. We sacrifice the big picture because we get caught up in the whirlwind of small, pathetic quarrels.
I needed to let go again.
Now I spend my time working for what I need, which as it turns out isn’t nearly as much as I thought and yet seems more than I could possibly want. In the last several years I’d focus on the goal—in writing projects I simply wanted it done, in journeys I simply wanted to get there. Now, the journey itself is the pleasure—creating the work, making the trip. I stop and get out now, look around, meet people, and take it in, take control of the clock instead of being dictated by it. I’m heading to Florida next weekend—I have no idea how long it will take to get there. People ask, they say, “What is that, ten hours? Eleven?” I think yes, that sounds about right—or it might be two days. I’m not sure just yet.
You see, I’ve done the math. I’m fifty-eight-years old. In twenty years I’ll be almost eighty. Twenty years ago seems like a blink; twenty years from now feels almost fleeting. I’m not becoming regretful or melancholic or depressed; I’m really not. I’m becoming aware of the passing of time, and I enjoy the world more because of it.
Honestly, it isn’t difficult to see what’s essential. One of my heroes is my sister. She was handed a short straw with Stage Four Ovarian Cancer, and she kicked it in the teeth. Five years remission and going strong and gaining momentum, and all with a quiet determination I’m sure she inherited from our mother. Some people “slow down” because they see the mortal exit ramp and would prefer to coast, but some people, and I count myself among them finally, slow down because we don’t want to miss anything. We want to enjoy the passing of time and not miss it by focusing on time passing.
When I was in college I once carved a pumpkin. I was on a retreat over a weekend which included Halloween, and a friend of mine and I decided it was time to carve a pumpkin, only it took us five hours. It was a huge pumpkin and slowly and methodically we approached it from all sides, making designs, slits for light, holes for depth, we became sculptors and monks, carving and contemplating. When it was done at some ridiculous a.m. we inserted a handful of candles and woke everyone. Not a single person minded—they all sat around talking about the pumpkin and suddenly we were telling stories by pumpkin light, sharing fears and hopes, out in a cabin in the woods somewhere. I remember it still, and that was two times ago the twenty years ahead of me. I had forgotten all about that pumpkin until today, sitting on my porch and slowing down my heart rate, slowing down my mind, trying to adjust the pulse of the planet around me.
I used to believe I needed to not only be a part of some race somewhere to prove to myself I am alive, but I needed to be “winning” at something, whatever that means. But now my pilgrimage has taken a different path, a new pace.
I think I am starting to master the passing of time, and it reminds me again of Whitman:
The friendly and flowing savage, who is he?
Is he waiting for civilization, or past it and mastering it?