Monday, November 12, 2012

Counting Train Cars

One!  One Train Car!

It was a great game when I was growing up, even though technically it wasn’t a game; it was math.  Still, we did it with childlike excitement, shouting out the numbers and hoping for a lengthy train.  The boys did it, as well, growing up, and of course, I’d have to count along with them.  The interior of the car echoed with each number.  One!  Two! Three! By forty-five my ears were ringing.

As a child, the longer the train, the better it was.  It didn’t matter that it was an interruption to our day, our schedule.  We forgot about why we were in the car in the first place and lost ourselves in the counting, not even realizing it was similar to homework.

Growing older, however, we tend to care less about how many cars a train has and more about our destination.  We want shorter, faster trains, so they do not disturb the flow of our day.  We don’t want to be slowed down and we sure don’t want to be outright stopped.  We have places to go, things to do, and people to see.  We have a life to live and trains only hinder us from living that life.  We are on a fast pace with goals to achieve and things to accomplish.  All of this talk of stopping to smell the roses is for slackers who have no ambition.  We have drive.  We have a plan.  We have a dream!

Okay, that last part sounded a bit too much like a political speech, but you get the idea.  We are too much in a rush, and as we sit there waiting for the train to finish trolling by, our hands are tapping the steering wheel with impatience and we keep shifting in our seat.  We want it to hurry up so we can get going, probably because we were late getting out of the house to begin with.  Humans are always rushing, always in a hurry.  We have instant everything.  Instant coffee.  Microwaveable popcorn.  Instant message.   Quick things to help get us on our way.  Yet, with so many conveniences to allow us more free time, we are still constantly in a mad dash as we go about our day.

However, we need those moments that make us slow down and look at the people and things around us.  When I was working at a pizza delivery company, I would relish every train stop and traffic light, because I was able to either read some more or put words to paper.  Other times, I would just stare at the people around, a witness to their rock star performance in their car as they sang along with whatever was blaring from the radio.  I gained several characters this way.

The truth of the matter is we need those moments and if we don’t take them, then life at some point is going to force them upon us, usually in drastic ways.  These moments are to help us catch our breath, to slow down enough to notice the things around us - a butterfly, another person, even a funny billboard.  We not only rush through this life, we live it quite often with blinders on, ignoring the small pleasures or hurting people around us.

Butterfly under construction
A couple of years ago, we planted a butterfly garden in our backyard with a stone path through it.  We wanted something to enjoy and just get lost in while watching butterflies flitter around from flower to flower.  We did all the work and then, normal for us, we kept ourselves so busy we couldn’t enjoy it.  We were always rushing to an event or a party, hitting the dance floor or just hitting the roads.  The sad part was we were doing it to ourselves.  Whether it was going out or having people over, we were still busy all the time.  We were either rushing to get ourselves ready or rushing to get the house ready.  The next day, we were simply too exhausted to do anything else except prepare for work.  Then the chaos would start all over again.

None of this is forced, by the way.  We love being busy.  However, add our hectic work schedules and now all of the eight-year old’s activities and soon even a night out seems more effort than fun.  We also have a bad habit of cramming something into every hour of the day.  For example, next week there is an art festival that I am sure the girls and I would enjoy.  However, two of them work until 3:30 on Saturday and the show closes at five.  Besides, we’re already meeting friends for dancing that night and Sunday we have a wine tasting scheduled.  Still, I was looking to see how we might be able to squeeze it in.

This weekend I made us stop and count train cars, so to speak.  We politely refused invitations out and instead sat around a small fire in our backyard and just sat mesmerized by the flames and each other.  We played some music, tucked our phones away and just took a few hours to breathe.  Of course, Sunday everyone was back at it - work, sailboat racing, and a jewelry party - but for a few hours Saturday night we just enjoyed doing nothing.

I need those moments.  I need to slow down and enjoy the journey.  I need to count the train cars and not rush them down the track, savoring every clickety-clack.  Not only do I need to block off time on my Day Planner for quietness and relaxation, I need to find it in the small moments that life gives us.  It is sometimes in the midst of quietness that life speaks to us, answering our searching questions.  Slow down and hear the voices around you.  The answer might even be in the rails as the wheels of the train roll by.  And see how many cars you can count while you’re listening.  My record is seventy-two.

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