Yesterday I was driving to back-to-school night at my daughter’s school, and it was raining, so rush-hour traffic was at a crawl. This is a stretch of highway I have driven hundreds of times, sometimes multiple times per day—to my children’s elementary school or preschool, to my parents’ house, or to downtown. And yet yesterday, in the rain, I drove under an overpass and realized I didn’t recognize where I was. Had I seen those trees before? What was that patch of grass? Suddenly I was disoriented. Because I was crawling along at 5 mph instead of zooming by at 65 mph, I didn’t recognize my familiar surroundings.
I realized then that speed matters. The speed at which we navigate our life deeply affects what we see and how we experience it.
With my mind wandering wildly as it sometimes does, I then imagined what it would be like if I were taken on a sped-up tour of history by some omniscient being—here are the dinosaurs, here are the goddess cultures, here are the men inventing weapons. I thought of all the detail that would be lost on such a tour, all the individual life stories of triumph and heartbreak, completely skimmed over at such a rapid pace. There is no time for richness and detail when you are rushing through, just as I had never noticed the trees and grass along that particular stretch of highway even though I’ve sped by it hundreds of times.
My thoughts then moved in the opposite direction: how slowing down changes things a great deal, too. Have you seen those nature videos where they use time-lapse photography to show plants growing from shoots into full-grown plants? Or flowers opening and closing every day as the sun moves across the sky? I am always awe-struck by these videos, as they make me aware that plants are more like us than I ever realized. Plants, trees, flowers—they move through our world, too, albeit anchored to one spot. But they stretch and twist toward the sun, and they open and close in response to rain or animals (to trap a bug, for instance). They assess their surroundings and they move. Amazing. I had never realized this, though, because they move so slowly. I needed technology to help me to see it by “slowing” me down (or actually, speeding them up).
All of this makes me think of how many times I have heard people say their lives are so busy, that their life is just flying by. They lament that they are missing out on the richness of their own life. Just like the car rushing by on the highway, they do not truly see the treasures that line their path.
It is so easy to lose sight of the reality that our schedules are our own doing, that we control how we spend our days. Of course, we must make money so we can eat and we must take care of those who depend upon us. But many obligations can be cancelled, changed, or postponed. Even obligations we think we are tied to have flexibility in there somewhere if we think creatively.
I know there have been many times in my own life when my schedule has been so packed that I barely had a moment to reflect on anything I experienced, so quickly was I rushing from obligation to obligation. Now because of a great deal of good fortune and some strategic choices, my life moves at a much slower pace than it once did. I am so grateful for this, and I reap the benefits every day. The slower pace gives me a chance to reflect on things I used to miss, which in turn frees up a creativity in me that was stifled when my life was clipping along.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to say no to requests for your time, especially when they involve things you care about, like your children or your community. I seek a middle ground when evaluating requests. I try to sort out which pieces are essential that I do, which pieces are truly important to those I care about, and which pieces are primarily driven by guilt or ego (which turns out to be quite a lot).
When I need inspiration, I remind myself that I only get one life, and if I’m lucky it’s about halfway over. If I don’t slow down, appreciate my life, and actively choose to do what I want to do now, then when will I get the chance? The answer, of course, is that I don’t know if I’ll get another chance. Now is the time.
© Amy Daniewicz
A personal note: I haven’t posted in a while. It was a good summer, filled with good health and energy. I spent a lot of time swimming with my children and writing for my book. (I say writing “for” my book, because even though I’ve filled a binder with writing, I feel that it’s all been prep work to some extent. It’s only now for some reason that I feel I’m ready to begin my book at the beginning! It’s been, and continues to be, quite a process.) In other news, I’m planning a new website, which will include this blog as well as news of my book and photos of visual projects I’m proud of. Look for it soon! And as always, thanks for reading! —Amy