At an intersection during a not-so-busy rush hour in central Pennsylvania, an SUV stopped at a traffic light didn’t move quickly enough once red turned to green. Of course, the drivers behind the sluggish vehicle laid all the way out on their horns and, when their chorus of tooting didn’t work, they swerved around it flashing all kinds of nasty looks and uncouth gestures. The light cycled again; the car still didn’t budge. It couldn’t. The man behind the wheel was dead, felled tragically by a heart attack right there in his own truck.
I remember seeing that story on the news about 10 years ago, but I think of the incident often, especially when I’m driving, because as much as I sympathize with the deceased and the family left to mourn him, there’s also a pretty good chance that I would’ve been one of those folks who was irked that we weren’t moving as soon as we legally could.
Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly hurried. Irritable. Rushed. Extra forgetful. The combination of hustling hard to grow a business and being a solo parent to a teenage girl has attached an immediacy to everything I do, even the ridiculously unimportant. I’ve been two huffs and puffs away from being certifiably high strung.
Patience has never been one of my personality strengths and, when I do spare a few precious moments for self-reflection, I’ve noticed what little bit I have is barely enough to get me through a trip to the grocery store and back. I’m sucking my teeth at other drivers. I’m shifting my body weight from leg to leg as I stand in line. I’m darting back to the car, generally rushing off to do a whole lot of nothing that requires any urgency or racing around. I’m rolling up on folks who are walking too slow for my liking. God in heaven knows I can’t fight, so common sense and a desire to stay upright should’ve chilled me out some time ago.
Even during savasana at the end of my yoga class, when I’m enveloped in the still quietness generated by practitioners who’ve found their center of calm, my mind is a hamster wheel of things to do once I get up off my mat. Gotta get some pineapples. When is the last time I got my oil changed? I need to email my editor... On rare occasion when my mouth isn’t running, trust that my mind is on full throttle.
I’ve always been a girl who pauses to appreciate watercolored sunsets and walk barefoot so the bottoms of my feet can slide across the dewy grass. I’ll talk at length with just about anyone, taking my time to really get to know people rather than rushing them off with insignificant small talk. I like those things about myself. I don’t want to lose them. They’re still active in me, but this burgeoning speed demon who rockets around city streets and the aisles of Costco is browbeating her. That’s not who I want to be. I want to be the kind of person who would pull up alongside that man’s car not to cuss him out, but to look in and see what’s going on, maybe even shift to park and get out to tap on the window. Most importantly, I want to be present in the collective moments of my day, even the seemingly meaningless ones. I want to cherish my time and value other people’s, too. When I weigh what I’ve rushed through against what I may have glazed over, there’s no contest, even if I didn’t really miss anything at all. It was mine.
Wednesday is my birthday. It’s always the most reflective time of year for me and usually, I’m immersed in some one-woman pity party about what I haven’t accomplished that I thought I would have gotten done by this age. This year, I skipped that melodrama and replaced it with four doable goals set almost a full 30 days ago: lose 10 pounds, find a good therapist, finish my book proposal and get back to my chill. With T-minus five days and counting until my born day, I’m actually doing pretty good, which is set to usher in my personal new year with a whole new attitude of gratitude, ability and focus.
My life is like graffiti: kind of funky and offbeat, plenty rough and unrefined, but there’s a definitive poetry to it. It’s beautiful in an unconventional way. It’s all I’ve got. And I’m darned if I’m not going to stop rushing through it and start fully appreciating it.