The Slow Lane
Welcome to 2007, another year of living large in the fast lane of economic growth and prosperity, the relentless march forward toward personal and social perfection, or if not that, eternal progress.
Progress for what, that’s the question. Thinking about this reminds me of a story my wife told me about Brian, a young man with Downs Syndrome who bags groceries at our local supermarket, and all that it implies for how we live our lives today.
Most of you have seen someone like Brian. He’s always happy and smiling, and has a cheerful word when he hands you your groceries. Whenever you’re having a bad day or pressed by the daily grind of duties and tasks, Brian lifts your spirits and reminds you of what’s really important, if only for a moment.
Brian is fully engaged in that moment, and so are you. The difference is, Brian stays there, and you don’t. You leave the store and quickly disappear into your head, where all sorts of fascinating and even disturbing things can occur. What does Brian have that you don’t? And what do you have that Brian doesn’t?
On a day shortly after Christmas, however, Brian wasn’t smiling at all. My wife was in the checkout lane with her groceries at the same time a store employee was clocking Brian’s bagging speed with a stop watch.
“Faster,” she commanded him. “Use two hands, keep moving.”
Brian’s lips pressed together like a vise. He emitted a soft moan, as if in pain, which he clearly was.
The groceries started to pile up in front of him. The timer’s commands grew louder and more insistent, people in the checkout lane behind my wife started to fidget. Brian was in a meltdown.
Appalled, my wife turned to the checkout clerk. “I’m not in a hurry,” she calmly explained. “I think you ought to have slow lane for customers like me. I would gladly use it.”
The clerk smiled insincerely but said nothing. She was on the clock as well. My wife got her groceries, but there was no cheerful greeting from Brian, who by now was beside himself, much like the slower students in my wife’s third grade classroom, who are expected to read English passages within a set amount of time or do “math blasters” under the gun. They complain, they suffer, some progress and some don’t. There is no slow lane for them in the fast lane world of achievement and progress.
Life is what we make of it, according to the received wisdom. “Grow young, not old,” proclaims a self-help book for aging boomers contemplating a meltdown of their own and searching for the latest psychological or technological fix. “Dance, sing, laugh and cry, just like a child.”
Whatever happened to just growing old and complaining about it? I think it’s great fun.
Why do you suppose you like your dog so much? Might it be because he thinks you’re God, doesn’t have any goals other than to be loved, and connects you with the very air you breathe?
Think about your children, and remember how it felt to hold them in your arms when they were infants. The joy of the first smile, the reaching out to grab hold of your little finger. That moment, the miracle of life. If you’re lucky enough to be with someone you love deeply, you can get that moment back, but it’s never the same. Time passes, and we are aware of it. Your dog, or an infant, isn’t.
That’s why Brian and so many special people like him are gifts, and not burdens, to those of us who are prisoners in time. They bring us back to the abiding miracle of life in the moment, much as we might get from a wistful conversation with a close friend over a leisurely meal or drink. You talk about your life, and what it means, and how you hope things turn out in the future, or how things might have turned out had you done things differently in the past. You both are acutely aware of how precious life is.
Between memory and hope is this moment. We should resolve to be more fully engaged in it.
Happy New Year.
Feedback? Send it my way: Roger.Hughes@slhi.org.
*The Drift reflects the views of the author, and does not represent the official view of SLHI’s Board of Trustees and staff.