The Pace

london

I am in my studio writing.  It is quiet. My friend who owns the old Presbyterian church where I have my studio rarely gets here till late in the day. I play music when I am painting, but when I write, I leave it quiet.

I slept late this morning. Something I don’t normally do. I slept till nine, and when I came downstairs and settled at the table, my wife asked me what I had going today. “I got nothin'” I told her.

In normal times, mine is a patchwork life. I have four or five things I do that together, bring in enough. I like the way I work. It’s messy maybe, compared to the fifty or more hours a week I worked when I had a regular job, all focused on one thing, one company, one small group of people.

It’s messy, but I like the combination of work. I like the way what I do uses my strange combination of skills and proclivities. I love the mix of people I get to work with. There is a lot more one on one interaction than I had in the corporate world, and I like that. Where decisions I made in corporate America affected numbers of people, what I do now is individualized, all aimed at understanding the people I work with and helping them, one by one, to become what they want to become.

And most of it has dried up. Not unlike most of America,

We are in no danger. I have enough coming in and the woman I love still has her job, though it has changed dramatically, with her becoming a master at Zoom and PowerPoint as she works from her office at home. We still have insurance, thanks to her. We are doing better than many at this time. It is for us, more a nuisance than a hardship.

I spend a lot of time talking to people, via the web, via facebook, via Linked In, via Zoom and Skype. “How are you doing?” I ask. “What are you doing?” and “What have you learned?”

That last one is important. The things we learn and what we do with them give our suffering meaning. The ability to take those lessons and cling to them, put them to work, make change that helps our lives be better is powerful. The best of us adapt. Grow. Change. Become better.

It has been interesting as I talk to people. Everyone’s situation is different of course. But one thing comes up again and again and again. It comes up in almost every conversation.

The pace.

This virus has slowed us down. We can’t fill our lives with activities and responsibilities and meetings and that big long list of things we feel we have to do. It’s dangerous to do so, and so we have stopped, filling our lives with other things. Books. Games with our kids. Projects with no deadlines. Conversation. Our world has shrunk and is no longer back to back activities.

And people like that. They like the slower pace. They like the deepening of relationships. The time to think and feel. Despite all our worried for people and health and our nation, there’s a peace in that slower pace that we want to hang on to when this is done.

The truth is, that chock-a-block scheduling of life and work has never been good for us. It builds stress and too much stress, even good stress, takes a toll on our lives, our health, our emotions, our spirit. We were not made to go as fast and pressured in life, day in and day out.

We can of course. I used to be the master and seeing how much I could cram into a day. No moment was unaccounted for. I could do more work, head more committees, get more things done than anyone I knew. I did it all and then some for a good twenty-five years before I and live became unraveled.

The problem is, when we fill our lives so full, we have no reserves. Everything is going out to the world, and not enough of the things that recharge us are coming back in. Sooner or later that imbalance collects. Sooner or later, we pay the price. And often we wonder how we got there. And we are so trapped by the stuff we do that we have no idea how to get out.

We fool ourselves, I think, into thinking we are so important. We fool ourselves that we are the only ones who can do all these things. We fool ourselves that the world will end if we can’t (FIll in your own list here.).

For many of us, the time of quarantine has taught us differently. Things are getting done. All my kids are working, with a bunch of their work done at home, unimaginable three months ago. My wife works at home. Schedules are strange when we work at home. We can take a walk in the afternoon, or stop a few minutes and savor a cup of coffee on the porch. And maybe that means we work late. My wife worked till eight last night.

I am not minimizing people who have no work because of this. I know all too many who work in restaurants or construction or other fields where working at home is impossible. I know people who have had to give up jobs to take care of kids who no longer have school.

And I am not minimizing people in health care, who are often working far more hours in far more dangerous situations than most of us can imagine.

But even those people, with the exception of health care workers, have said to me again and again, that they enjoy the slower pace. That they sleep better. That they have begun doing things they love that they had stopped doing because of the pace. That they want to hang on to that change in their lives somehow when this is all over.

I made the choice to slow my life down about eight years ago. I won’t lie. It was hard. It meant less money. It was the undoing of a lifetime of running with a revved-up motor day in and day out. I had to relearn my value, to learn it was not measured in the way I thought it was measured. I had to learn to find my own measure of value, and discovered it was not wrapped up in busyness.

I learned to be still. (My favorite bible verse, by the way, is Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and Know I am God.”)

And I will say this, slowing down, learning that less was just fine. Learning to value relationships and the things that feed me as much as the results of a madly full life, was the best thing I ever did. The past eight years have been the most joyous of my life. I want for nothing I need. I do work that fills me instead of drains me. My relationship with my children turned around completely. And I do not think finding and marrying my bride (Three years this month!) would have been possible without the slower pace.

And many of us are finding the same thing now.

Like I said, almost everyone I have talked to about this over the past few weeks has said the same thing. That a slower pace that allows for us to be recharged is something they want to cling to as the threat of the virus dissipates.

I hope we will. It’s worth the work and change. Pace matters. More than we knew.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: Why the picture of Big Ben at the top of this post? Because this was supposed to be an essay of wanderlust, but as is so often the case, my muse had other ideas.

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