Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Compulsions To Hurry: A Midweek Rumination

     Among my many faults is one that’s dogged me all the days of my life: I’m in a hurry. No matter what I’m doing, I’m doing my best to speed it up. I move as quickly as possible at all times, in every situation. I’m infuriated by obstructions and delays. As you can imagine, that makes Long Island traffic an unusually severe trial for me, which is one of the major reasons I retired.

     Contrast this with Harlan Ellison’s admission that no matter what he does, he’s inevitably late. (It was the genesis of his early award-winner “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman”) I wouldn’t want his problem, but I don’t much like mine either. There’s no virtue in hurrying all the time unless you’re hurrying toward something important, perhaps even vital.

     Every now and then, someone will inquire about it: “Who’s chasing you?” “Do you have a plane to catch?” I never have an answer. It’s just what I do, automatically.

     So what am I hurrying toward? I don’t know – I’ve never known – but it’s a lead-pipe cinch that whatever it is, I’ll hurry through that, too. It appears to be built into me at some low level that I can’t reprogram by conscious effort, even though I’m aware that it costs me quite a lot in a number of ways.

     When you can feel the end of your life approaching, questions such as that one acquire a compelling force.

     I believe I’ve told this little parable before, perhaps at Eternity Road, but it bears repeating now and then:

     A man was feeling unwell, unusually so, and went to see his doctor. The doctor agreed that the man’s run-down condition and general malaise merited a close look, and ran him through a battery of tests.

     The results of the tests were grave: the man was terminally ill. He had only a few months to live. When the doctor told him of his condition, he was immediately stricken with a great fear. “Doctor,” he said, “I’m afraid to die. What happens when we die? What lies beyond death?”

     The doctor, an unusually humble man, whispered “I don’t know!” He reached out to take his patient in his arms when there came a commotion in his waiting room. The two men looked toward the door as it burst open and the doctor’s pet dog, a large Newfoundland, swarmed in, jumped into his arms, and smothered him with dog-kisses. When the siege had lifted somewhat, the doctor turned to his moribund patient and smiled.

     “Here is our answer,” the doctor said. “My dog has never before chosen to go exploring, but he chose this day to leap over our fence. And what did he do then but to come here, to my office. What did he know of what lay beyond that door? Nothing, except that his master is here, and that was enough.”

     The doctor tousled his Newf’s head affectionately. “So it is with us,” he said. “We know nothing of death, and nothing of what lies beyond it...except that the Master is there. And that is enough.”

     At any rate, it should be.

     The doctor’s insight is a reason to keep calm, to live in the present, and to do what there is to do right now to the best of our ability. Temporal life is the second-greatest of all God’s gifts to us. Yes, it’s a time of testing, when our trials reveal our ability to discern right from wrong and to choose properly between them. But it’s also a time of blessings. The world is filled with other gifts, most particularly our loved ones, our communities, and our chosen trades. It is right and necessary that we should show these the proper appreciation. Always being in a hurry is inconsistent with that.

     Now, my hurrying problem is probably constitutional; it’s consistent with my unusually quick reflexes, high pulse rate, and high blood pressure. But many others whom I’ve observed hurrying as if they were late for their own funerals don’t do so out of an inner compulsion. The influences that surround them subliminally urge them to an ever higher pace. It’s possible that their loved ones, trusted advisors, and confidants have told them that they’re doing themselves harm. But the many voices through which our milieu speaks silently to us keep whispering that there’s no time to lose! And they can be damnably difficult to oppose.

     Life is short. (“Eat dessert first!”) And yes, it’s a test. Whether you’re a believer or not, you can feel it testing you: your moral sense, your attentiveness, your reaction time, your intelligence and good sense, your ability to persevere, and much else. But it’s also a blessing to be enjoyed, even savored. It will be over soon enough; trust me on that.

     May God bless and keep you all.


Glenda T Goode said...

It is not that we hurry or tarry. Those are perceptions. Not actions.

We are who we are with our failings and attributes.

Only when we compare ourselves to others expectations do we 'judge' who we are.

That is counter productive. We should judge ourselves only as to whether we live lives in ways God would approve of.

By the same token, we should also consider the morality of those who would presume to judge others.

Life is difficult enough without adding value judgements that we need not do.

Linda Fox said...

I suspect that it's congenital. Just one of those things that are related to our temperament.

My husband, I've said, has only two modes:
- puttering around aimlessly
- moving at warp speed

I'm more like my dad, generally inclined to take my time on tasks, urgent or not. For that reason, I prepare ahead of time.