"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When Sweet Potatoes Force You to Slow Down

Sometimes I move too quickly, I think. I enter into on-a-mission mode, trying to be as efficient with my time as possible, cramming a lot into a little. It comes from a good place, maybe—I do want to manage my time well, after all.

But sometimes tunnel vision takes over, and my current pace becomes the last word, and any person or persons who would deter me from fulfilling my task at my current pace become enemies. The driver who’s clearly talking on her phone and thus less aware of the traffic situation; the guy crossing the street at a snail’s pace; the person with poor line or crowd etiquette who is clearly disrupting the flow; even my wife, who just wants to get the milk out of the fridge and intends no malice by entering into the path I’ve apparently determined is my own.

So when God slash the universe slash needless haste slash inevitability decided to slash open my middle finger last week, I guess I should have seen it coming. The rapidly moving vehicle that is me probably needed a flat.

I was cutting sweet potatoes last Tuesday night…we’re on a bit of a SP kick lately. Those suckers are hard to cut! And I still can’t figure out how it happened, but somehow because of an inadequate knife or because I was slicing too quickly, the serrated knife must have slipped...and sliced right into the inner portion of my middle finger.

I ran to the bathroom, trying to both cleanse and bandage the wound before I had to sit down, as I nearly passed out. Shortly after that, I became extremely cold. Several people have since asked me if I have difficulty with blood (assuming my symptoms indicated shock), to which I responded that if I do have a problem with blood, I’m not conscious of it.

Besides the pain and a little bit of fear (is a bandage sufficient, should I be going to the hospital in case stitches are needed, etc.), there was some upside. I had a lot to do that night, or so I felt. I always have something I need to be doing; at least that’s how I tend to operate. I need to be working toward some future goal, need to be preparing for my morning classes well ahead of time, need to be doing something purposeful. But I spent the rest of the evening curled up in a blanket on the couch, my wife attending to me, both of us knowing that remaining still and relaxed was probably the best thing for me. I did nothing; it was lovely.

It has been a bit of a wake-up call. That sounds a bit hyperbolic, so maybe I can soften that by saying it at least got me thinking, made me aware of a very basic, much-needed discipline that I often neglect—slowness. It’s not a Richard Foster/Dallas Willard type of discipline, I don’t believe, though I’m sure there are elements of “slowness” in those other spiritual disciplines.

The wound appears to be healing, though I imagine it will leave a scar. Which is fine with me; scars seem a humbling, clarifying reminder that we’re fragile, delicate, capable of being hurt, limited, and finite.

I have a scar on my lower right leg from falling off wooden stilts in the first grade. I love it; it’s like a tattoo, but a permanent mark that reminds me not simply of a personal value (as a tattoo might) but of the fact that there’s more to my life than the present moment, that I have a whole history, and that I have a future; it keeps me connected to my life narrative, which is important. It’s easy to get shortsighted and assume that things won’t get better or change; or, oppositely, that they haven’t gotten better or changed.

I’ve bandaged my finger in a way that keeps the knuckle from bending (to maximize healing speed…is it contrary to my goal here to want the wound to heal as rapidly as possible?). It’s necessitated a much slower pace; I have to be more deliberate about things I’m doing, like cooking, doing dishes, packing bags, opening doors, etc. I cannot say without grossly exaggerating that it’s opened my eyes to the depths of beauty in every facet of life; but I guess I at least have faith that’s it’s in some way making my life richer, deeper, better.

And it hasn’t been without humor. I tried to give a co-worker a thumbs-up with my left hand earlier this week, but couldn’t bend my bandaged finger correctly and so flipped her off. That story got told and retold a few times that day.

I don’t think moving at a high speed is sinful, evil, ungodly. But I do find that when I get fixated on one thing, other things can get tuned out, including people. When my plans get thwarted, I sometimes suspect that those plans or momentary goals had become a bit of an idol, to put it strongly—something demanding way more of my focus and attention and time than it should.

That can be anything from cutting sweet potatoes in an arbitrarily chosen short amount of time, to how quickly I expect to get through the grocery line, to larger, career-like ambitions that can be quite consuming. My "great" character doesn’t shine as much as I’d like it to when my trajectory is interrupted.

Here’s a fun experiment that you might join me in. Try to catch yourself moving quickly at something and then…deliberately slow down, paying attention to everything that is happening in you, around you, every little detail, every step…everything.

Or if speediness is not your vice…pick up the pace and see how that feels. J For me it’s the “doing” that needs to be restrained; I could use a little more of what Taoists call “wu wei”—literally “not doing.” Or maybe still “doing” it…just in a lower gear. (And surfing the internet in a comfy chair does not qualify as wu wei for me.)

Oh, and we didn’t end up having sweet potatoes that night. We ordered a pizza.

1 comment:

Marie said...

good thoughts, Matt. I must slow down and think about this....