Take your time
For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.
On goes the alarm: 6 a.m. thirteen minutes of news, weather, and traffic. 6:13. Out of bed, into the shower. First sip of coffee. Pack lunch, make breakfast, finish coffee, brush teeth.
Here comes the bus--uncharacteristically on time. Nod to the driver. Nice to be early to work.
Eight minutes later, onto the train and out with the newspaper-surprisingly silent for so many commuters. No morning people here. "This is Monroe," says the computerized train voice matter-of-factly. My stop. Subway belches commuters to the street. Four blocks to work. More coffee, e-mail, meetings. You get the picture.
5 p.m. or thereabouts: reverse. Dinner, dishes, TV (definitely), book (maybe), bed. Repeat five times in a row. Rest two days. Repeat cycle. And so on.
There's something comforting about a schedule, especially one that perpetuates personal financial solvency and provides meaningful work. I can think of many people robbed of both who would envy my daily grind, and others still who would like to spend the day working at something they care about, as I do.
But July in Chicago abhors a schedule and undermines even the most entrenched work ethic: Summer sun, after all, is more likely to appear during the five working days than on the measly two that make up the weekend. I often wonder if the summer sun stares down in a fit of pique every Tuesday in July (inevitably sunny in Chicago, unlike Saturday) and, stellar hands on hips, declares us all fools as we pass thoughtlessly between home and work. It might as well be January.
I imagine the indignation of the roses and hydrangeas, impatiens and day lilies, when their floribundant fashion show goes unnoticed by focused commuters. They invoke Jesus' counsel: "Consider the lilies. . . . They neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these" (Luke 12:27). Good enough for you, we reply. We have to work. The flowers toss their blossoms in disgust, as any spurned supermodel should.
It's not that I'm against an honest day's work, but I realized recently that I am 36 and not entirely sure when that happened. Much of that time has been spent working, earning, acquiring-season in, season out. It may be early for this realization, but the words of the psalmist are ringing in my ears: We mortals are like the summer grass that "in the morning flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers" (Psalm 90:5-6). Even if I think it's only midday for me, I am not so unlike July's flowers after all.
It strikes me that if the financial collapse of the previous year should have taught me anything, it's the obvious lesson that what is truly valuable is most likely not found in stocks and bonds or savings accounts. It's now obvious to me that a Gerber daisy has more value than a mortgage-backed security, at least a few of which were probably hiding somewhere in my retirement account.
Even bonuses counted in the hundreds of millions start to seem worth less than a single summer day, a mere series of zeroes reflecting a sum so ridiculous that a human being couldn't possibly make use of it in 10 lifetimes. The wisdom of summer is that the passing taste of a homegrown cherry tomato is worth more.
Unless you don't have any money, of course, and that is a practical matter to be considered. But we never seem concerned that the poor lack not only livelihood but leisure as well. We may want to make sure that a single mother has a job, but it rarely occurs to us that she also needs a vacation. True human living needs at least a few "wasted" days at the beach or park, yet we behave as if exhaustion were a virtue.
This month my grandmother will have a birthday that will bring her only a few ticks from triple digits. Her great-granddaughter will have her first birthday the week before. If I asked my grandmother for the summer advice she would give in her fading days to my niece who is just beginning to flourish, I doubt that she would counsel a life of untiring industry and measurable productivity. My grandmother, a lover of roses, would more likely suggest that our family's youngest member take time to stop and smell them.
This article appeared in the July 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 7, page 8).
Image: Tom Wright