Out my office window, while mulling some human tangle, I occasionally watch traffic. Every day thousands of cars pass our intersection bearing Shoreliners about their tasks. We Shoreliners are busy people, serious people. Not many smile, capsuled in their automobile universes. More than a few honk, gun waiting engines, swerve onto sidewalks to steal that tempting right turn. Many speed, screaming breakneck by. Some deem stoplights mere advisory opinions.
I wonder, What drives my neighbors? Financial pressure? Spousal conflict? Habits of hurry? Panic? Depression from desperate loneliness? I too rush, for no obvious reason, though not usually behind the wheel. Some noxious imp whispers at my ear, Do more faster, you goldbricker. Pestered, I pick up my pace, without actually choosing to hurry. Perhaps my pesky urchin chides my neighbors as well. America cherishes productivity; haste can appear reasonable, even patriotic. Worn, we look for help. Coffee befriends bustle, making hearts beat to quickened feet. We gulp soul accelerators: Jitters or Sexpresso or Perkies or Jumping Bean or Don’t Be Latte or Jiffy Java. Life demands that third triple mocha. Grogginess withdraws; some rationality and much calm slink away with it. We are stoked, caffeinated, on top of our game. Still, our hearts murmur inaudibly: late, tardy, lazy.
America did not invent this malady. Before cars and cell phones and airplanes and television, Matthew Arnold (British, 19th century A.D.) complained of “this strange disease of modern life, with its sick hurry, its divided aims, its heads o’ertaxed, its palsied hearts” (The Scholar-Gipsy, 1853). Britain hastened to stretch its Empire around the globe, to convey to England the extravagances and baubles of the planet. Bustle bit Brits. Nineteen hundred years earlier, Romans thundered through Mediterranean climes to subjugate the known world. Rush rankled Romans. Gaius Julius Caesar (Caesar Augustus, Roman, 1st century B.C.) advised his countrymen: “Make haste slowly.” Now, acceleration aggravates Americans. We share a misshapen mindset of long, if sordid, pedigree. Alice Walker (American, 20th century A.D.) said: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (The Colour Purple).
When sane, I counsel myself: Slow down. Have a chat with a neighbor. Smile occasionally. Refuse to multi-task. Take a deep breath. Notice that moon. Rescue a self from yourself. Try life decaffeinated.
Sometimes I even do so. Briefly. Before I hurry off.