When you think of being sick in bed, there’s something quietly delightful about the idea. ”Sniff!“ you imagine yourself saying adorably as you snuggle under the covers and watch endless episodes of something utterly wonderful and somebody brings you soup. Being sick, though (and this is something only sick people understand) really does suck.
The other day, quite by accident, I was still. My body hurt when I moved it due to a pinched nerve situation known in medical circles as middle age, and so I was forced to be still. Couldn’t even hold up a book without making the kinds of noises I imagine a donkey might make while giving birth in an electrical storm. All I could really do was listen, and be still, and it was dreadful and also quite lovely.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in everybody always slowing down and taking their time. I do not believe that people are terrible these days because they’re over-scheduled and use their phones too much and nobody talks to anybody and they should all stop to smell the roses and salute to the sun at dawn. Some of those things are partly true, sometimes, but the pressure on people to live the dream and have a family and parent well and eat clean and live right and slow down and make time for yourself completely fails to take into account the stark realities of, well, being a human person.
But sometimes, you have a change of pace thrust upon you. You’re stuck in traffic. You’re in the line for something in a shop. You’re forced to lie down and not move because you broke your own body by pinching a stupid nerve. Whatever the case may be. This is a Public Service Announcement: enjoy the slow bits.
Enjoy waiting in queues. Not all queues, obviously. Not anxious ones. Boring queues. There aren’t enough boring queues these days. If you find yourself in one, though, think of the five top friends you’ve ever had and why. Think of the fact that there are people whose job it is to be queue scientists. They study and curate queues. They play tricks on people like turning the queues into s-shapes so humans feel like they’re progressing further than they are. Queue scientists: are they evil geniuses? You decide! Listen in to a conversation happening somewhere in that queue. What is that woman on the phone talking about? Who is Steven and why is he on thin ice and what did Ingrid do in the staff meeting that upset Sonia? Let your mind go to other places, even if you weren’t invited.
Enjoy other people’s friendships. You don’t have to know them, but when time slows down sometimes you can see them a little more clearly. At the end of my street there’s a school. In that school there’s a gardener. The other day he was sitting on the school fence rather adorably having a sandwich out of a little lunchbox. His legs were even dangling. The comparison between the gardener and the children was not difficult to draw. As I was approaching, a boy half way up a tree near the gardener broadcast to everybody from his birds-eye-view, “Hey you guys, look! Roger has the same cheese sticks as Annabelle!” and the schoolyard exploded into a thousand urgent conversations. The kid up the tree lowered himself onto the fence and sat next to the gardener as I passed, peering into the lunchbox for a closer look. “Thanks for that Oscar”, said Roger, quietly. “No worries”, said Oscar. “You do, you know. Same exact ones!” and they smiled at each other, for different reasons. There was something about this little celebration of cross-generational cheese enjoyment that made me grateful that I had taken the time, by accident, to forget my wallet and thus to be walking back to the house to get it.
Enjoy staring out windows. Not enough psychological research has gone into the benefits to one’s mental health of staring out a window and thinking of nothing.
Compose a message for someone who deserves it. Someone who won’t expect it. Someone who will be glad you took the time.
Be in a hurry. Get things done. But when things slow down, take the time. This has been a Public Service Announcement.
This was originally printed in The Big Issue. You know. The good guys.