I used to always seem to be running late. I’d wake up in the morning early enough to have plenty of time to get to where I wanted to go. But by the time I found myself on the road headed for my destination, it was obvious that I was going to be late. So I’d strap on my seatbelt, put the car in gear, and slam the accelerator to the floor in an attempt to make up for the 5 or 10 minutes that I’d somehow lost. The scenery became nothing but a blur as I played chicken with the traffic lights and kept my mental radar on the alert for the men in blue.
This constant rushing also extended into other aspects of my life. When I went grocery shopping, I looked much like the winner of an all-you-can-spend-in-5-minutes shopping spree. I’d race up and down the aisles throwing in items right and left. My cart would take the corners on two wheels as I yelled out my deli order to the startled lady behind the counter.
Or, at the mall, I’d race through the stores like an entrant in the hundred yard dash. There was no window shopping for me. I’d plan my route before I even walked through the doors and then rain nor sleet nor an unexpected sale at JC Penney could keep me from making my self-appointed rounds.
I HAD to rush around like that. There just weren’t enough hours in the day and I was afraid I might MISS something if I didn’t hurry up.
And then one day, as fate would have it, I ran out of gas. I had been running behind (again) so I hadn’t noticed my gas gauge. As my car coasted off the road, I looked at my watch and slammed the steering wheel. “Now What?” I thought. “I’ve got a meeting in 15 minutes and I haven’t even planned my notes yet.” But as I got out of my car, an amazing thing happened. I looked out towards the east, and the sun was just beginning to blaze over the horizon. There was a low misty fog hanging over the river and some type of ducks were cutting thick, smooth trails across the otherwise glass-like surface of the water. A few sailboats sat at anchor, their mirror images extending out before them. And as the sun inched up through tiny trails of clouds that stretched across the sky, it extended beacons of glorious, wondrous light that SHOUTED with all its beauty and strength, “Behold world! I have risen, again, for another day!”
I was awe-struck. “My God!” I thought. “Do you mean to tell me that this glorious scene has been going on right outside of my car every morning and I’ve never taken the time to see it?” I had been rushing around in such a hurry to not miss anything, that I had been missing….well, EVERYTHING!!
I turned toward the road. Traffic was whizzing by at breakneck speed. I wanted to shout at the drivers “STOP! Look what’s happening over here! You’re missing it!” But instead, I climbed up and had a seat on the hood of my car. And I quietly, joyfully, patiently watched as the sun painted a brand new day; a day of ducks and sailboats and silvery reflections on a mirrored sea.
When a co-worker finally recognized my car and stopped for me, I had somehow been transformed. My heart, my mind and my soul were all lighter. I went into work but was jealous that my car got to stay behind for a few more hours and watch the production of morning into afternoon, as the ducks and the river and the sailors all woke up and moved into their day.
It was as if I had been switched from 78 down to 33 rpm that day. Life went from a fast jitterbug into a slow, fluid waltz. I slowed down enough to see the people I worked with. To talk to them about things other than work. To notice if they were particularly happy or troubled and to see it they needed to tell me why.
I began taking long, slow walks around my yard and neighborhood, noticing for the first time all the mysteries and wonders that were right there for me to see all the time, patiently waiting for me to just slow down enough to notice. Not only were there sights that I had been missing, but I now began to hear entire symphonies all around me: birds singing, wind blowing, leaves rustling. And as I continued to practice my new found peace, I discovered, to my amazement, another sound; a still, small voice deep inside my soul. And this voice had incredible things to say; images of intense beauty to point out, flashes of great insight, pearls of deep wisdom and constant words of inspiration, encouragement and guidance.
Life is different now. For years I had been like a hamster in an exercise wheel, running and running and running and never realizing that the place that I was racing so fast to get…was exactly the place that I already was. In fact, I’ve traded in my exercise wheel for a hammock, and this lazy hamster is sometimes quite content to just lay on my back and spend an entire afternoon trying to make clouds disappear. And incredibly enough, the world is still turning around. It didn’t need my hamster wheel for momentum after all.
I’ll admit that I am a few minutes late to work sometimes now. And I take forever in the grocery store. And window shopping and people watching in the mall can take an entire afternoon. But life is no longer passing me by. I am here, fully present, in every moment of life as it unfolds before me. Joyfully, peacefully, patiently travelling this life in the slow lane…and enjoying every precious moment of it.
** Author’s note: I originally wrote this essay in 1998. The story was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book entitled Find Your Happiness in 2011.