I have a confession to make: I’m a line jumper.
Yup, I’m that guy you see in the supermarket, looking from one line to the next and then jumping to whichever one appears “quicker.”
I do it on the highway too, though not as much as I used to. When traffic is bad, I’m constantly trying to outpace whatever lane I am in–even if it’s just by one car length. And yes, I am fully aware of the curse of the lane changer, who finds that the lane he just left is suddenly moving faster than the lane he now occupies.
So today I was in line at the Farmer’s Market, and the woman in front of me had a big cart filled with lots of stuff. I started to eye the family of four in the next lane, doing the calculation in my head (fewer items, more people) to determine which line would get me out of there quicker.
And then I stopped.
It struck me that even though I had to be somewhere in a half hour, at that moment I was right there. It was another instance of constantly trying to get somewhere, or do something, other than what is right in front of me. And of course, the more mundane the task, the harder it is for me to be really present and attentive. It’s easy to be in the moment when that moment is joyful, or poignant, or exhilarating–but being present in line at the supermarket, or in a line of traffic–that’s a major challenge.
So today, for a change, I just stood there and waited for the woman to pay for all of her groceries. No big enlightenment. No revelations. I just patiently stood in line and did just that.
Later in the day, I caught myself stealing a look at my phone at a stoplight (yes, I know–I still need to practice stowing it away). I stopped myself and reminded myself that there was no reason why work couldn’t wait.
When I got home after the gym tonight, the first thing I wanted to do was sit down and write this post. But there were some end-of-day chores to attend to, and kids to get to bed. So I waited–and without announcing to the family that my very important activities were on hold while I did such menial labor. I did what needed to be done, in the moment it needed to be done. And when the time came to write this post, I sat down and did that as well–even though the next thing I needed to do was already starting to crowd in.
But that next moment would have to wait its turn as well.
It’s a funny thing, when you think of it. Sure, there’s always some perfectly good reason why I would choose to rush on, focusing on the next thing, instead of slowing down and being present. But what have I really gained in those moments of haste?
And what have I lost?