By MARY HOOD HART
The other day, after running some errands, I stopped for gas at a self-service station. As it happened, the pump I selected wasn’t efficient. As I watched the numbers rotate slowly on the pump face, I became irritated by how slowly the gas was dispensed. If the urgency I was feeling could have traveled through my arm to the pump, fuel would have gushed to the tank.
After my initial irritation, I started to question my reaction. While I wanted to get home, nothing urgent awaited me there. Here I was riled by a machine’s delaying me only minutes, at most. How silly to let myself become so impatient. Yet impatience over insignificant delays seems more and more a part of my daily experience.
Maybe I’ve become spoiled by the conveniences of modern technology. Normally I pump my own gas, then pay for it immediately by a swipe of my credit card. For the most part, even on the road, my wants and needs can be satisfied in no time. Hungry? Pull in a fast-food restaurant. Need cash? You needn’t look hard for an ATM.
Yes, much of what’s available in the marketplace is designed to be convenient and quick. When it’s not, we often become annoyed, even if the delay is insignificant. When I get in a supermarket express line eight customers deep, I feel cheated of my “right” to hasty service. If a fast food restaurant is understaffed or unprepared and I must wait 10 minutes for my order, I regret ever pulling into the lot. And that urgency carries over in other aspects of my life driving (following someone who’s traveling 45 mph in the passing lane is nearly torture); cooking (I’d be lost without a microwave); even household chores (will that wash cycle ever end?). From chores to meals to shopping trips, I want everything quickly. The trouble is, I’m not sure why.
Because when I really think about it, this urgency is not improving the quality of my life. If rushing does provide extra minutes each day, I’m honestly not sure where those minutes end up. By evening, I’m not sitting back saying, “Now I can relax because I saved so much time hurrying through my day.” Indeed, I keep rushing until bedtime, making sure the children are fed, bathed, properly prepared for the next school day, hurried off to sleep. (I must confess to also rushing through prayer time some nights as well.)
This rushing might make me feel as if I’m headed somewhere important, but wherever that is certainly doesn’t lead to a better relationship with my family, my community, my God. When I really think about it, the only way to slow down, to stop the crazy impatience I feel about tending to the details of daily life, is by paying attention to something other than my own agenda. If I step outside of my own desires and really notice other people, other needs, other priorities, I realize how self-absorbed pointless all this rushing really is.
For example, at the gas station, if I were chatting with an attendant filling my tank, I would have been much more patient even if the experience took longer than expected. Perhaps part of the reason everything feels so urgent is so many everyday chores, like pumping gas, now lack contact with others. Without that human contact, it’s easy to focus only on the task at hand and rush to complete it. It’s sort of like calling a business with a quick question and being put on hold for too long: we resent being left hanging by a machine when our need is easily satisfied.
But that doesn’t explain how, even with human contact, I become so annoyed and impatient when things move too slowly to suit me. Becoming impatient with people shows I’m more interested in getting what I want than in what’s happening to those around me. Perhaps if I stopped rushing and started focusing on the humanity of others, I would stop viewing them as impediments to my progress.
Indeed, such self-centered “progress” is truly foolish. In that frenzied effort to get somewhere, how easy it is to lose sight of my ultimate destination and my whole purpose for being here at all.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Calabash, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and their four children, ages 6 to 14. In addition to The Miscellany, Hart is a columnist for The Mirror, diocesan newspaper of Springfield Cape Cirardeau, Missouri.