I wake up at 6 every morning and go to bed around 10 or 10:30pm. I’m twenty-two going on seventy-five, and there are many more seventy-five year olds who stay up later than me. Life here is quiet. We pray in the morning at 7:30am. Usually, Ingrid is either in Boone working on her training for Alexander technique (ask her about it some time, it’s really interesting), Susan’s down at the office working on her computer, and I’m working on mine in the dining room. Either that or one of us is meeting with someone else.
This sort of life doesn’t cause you to slow down. It forces you to. Silence has become essential. I was just in Boone this morning, and I was struck how noisy everything was. I felt hyper alert. Everything in our life can seem to say, “Go! Go! Go! You need to get this done then this. Have you crossed this off your checklist? Do you know what you’re making for dinner tonight?” And the list goes on and on. When I was in school, I would wake up at 7am or 8am and often wouldn’t be back until 9 or 10pm. If I wasn’t in class, I was working. If I wasn’t working, I was at a meeting. If I wasn’t at a meeting, I was doing homework. If I wasn’t doing homework, I was finding time to spend with friends. I was constantly with people and doing something that when I came home at night, I would be utterly exhausted. It was so easy to say yes to everything that people asked. Can you volunteer here? Would you mind stopping by this meeting? I don’t mean to sound like a martyr because the truth is everyone else was doing it too. I would zone out of conversations thinking about my next to-do item. My roommate worked two jobs with 18 hours of credit that included graduate work. Everyone was doing it. Looking back, it seems like we were following each other off cliffs.
This isn’t just with college students. I see it with everyone. High school students have swimming or band or homework or cross country or dance. Young parents work until 6pm or 7pm, giving them just enough time to play with their kids before bed. Retired people find themselves volunteering for anything. They’re so used to having a life that is full of activities we can’t bear to just sit and think anymore.
Everything about our world screams “Go! Go! Go! This is the way to succeed.” To be busy means you’re doing something right. Advertisements tell you to run to a store to buy their product to succeed. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are all showing you the amazing things that your friends or relatives are doing. Rather than a chance to keep in touch, often I find myself asking a question. The question is why aren’t you? Why aren’t you having as much fun? Why aren’t you in Greece? Or hiking the AT? Or doing something? Shouldn’t you be? Doing Something? Anything?
It’s easy and, I think, a bit clichéd to say that we need to slow down. We need to take deep breaths, do some yoga, etc. To me that seems like treating the symptoms without knowing the cause. Why do we find ourselves running the rat race? I know it’s easier living in an intentional community to take a step back to think about this. My life is focused on contemplation and silence as well as community development. Because of that, I’ve been thinking about this more and more. We are sucked into a competition with each other, we often fail to see why we’re competing in the first place. It’s so subtle and happens in every day life that it seems trivial to ask, but I think the question is an important one. I don’t think I’ll ever arrive at a complete answer to this one, but I think it has to do with the human spirit more than anything. We need each other. We need to connect with others, and when everyone else is running, we want to catch up. The truth is, we probably never will. No matter how hard we try.
John Lennon said, once, that when he was a child, his teacher asked his class what they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon wrote down that he wanted to be happy. It’s a nice thought, to be happy. But what does it mean to be happy? Was John Lennon happy? I stand in a grocery aisle waiting to be rung up and I’m looking at these magazines of a million Hollywood stars gold, gleaming, and smiling. I’m wondering if they are in fact happy in the photo. Is their perfect life represented in the magazine really any different than anyone else’s? These people are on top of the world, admired by all. Is that what it means to be happy? Or is happiness working over time at a job that you tell yourself you love? It’s still a job. Is happiness the brief get away you make to go hiking or kayaking or biking? We’re told constantly to “Take a break” or “Relax, you deserve it.” If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t deserve it, not because I don’t work hard but what’s the reason for me going at breakneck speed all of the time to get to the moments when I can breathe? We tell ourselves we need to do this now, so that we can get to point B tomorrow. Everything is always about tomorrow. The grass is always greener on the other side.
One of my favorite Bible passages comes from Ecclesiastes not because it’s about the love of God or the justice of God, but because it’s the most practical and seemingly human verse to me. It’s not telling you what you should reach for but what simply is. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reads “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…” It goes on to list specifically what those things are. I think it’s interesting that we often read this passage at a funeral but rarely do we account for it in our daily lives. It’s supposed to be a sort of comfort in time of death, but what about in life? There is a time for everything. There is a time to smile for a photo, to go biking, to play with your child, to invest in work, and, yes, to breathe, or do yoga, or relax. There’s wisdom in knowing when. What time is it? Does four hours over time really mean anything? Your work will be there tomorrow. Your child will be grown by the time you get it finished. You will have a family by the time you finish all the homework. You will be in college before you beat your last track record. There will be more hungry to serve tomorrow. It’s not to say that we should disregard these things, but rather take the time to know what time it is. Running the rat race never got anyone anywhere. I’m trying to take life at a pace. Our work, our time, our life will never be finished but there is always tomorrow. And if tomorrow never comes, we leave it to God.