Living at Human Speed


Monday is laundry day. It’s been laundry day almost as long as I can remember.

Back when I worked at a summer camp, Monday was my day off. It was the day I would ride my bike off the mountain peak and into town where there was a Laundromat. When I was in grad school, laundry was one of my regular chores, and Monday was usually the day. And when I began ordained ministry, I started taking Monday as my weekly day off, and thirty years later, it’s still my day off (and laundry day).

But today (Monday), when I was starting the laundry, while making my breakfast at the same time, I had a thought. I don’t know that anyone else would consider it a breakthrough, but for me it sort of was.

Here’s what happened. The bagel toasting in the toaster and the washing machine entering the final spin cycle put me into a race condition. They were both going to finish at nearly the same time and I started to get anxious about which event to respond to – and began to worry that I could choose wrongly. Like, for example, unloading the laundry and having soap scented hands when the toaster finished, and then having to manage to choose between scented bagels or cold bagels. (These are the sorts of major concerns I have on a Monday morning.)

But it occurred to me that I could decide the let the washing machine finish and wait to unload it until I had finished making and eating my bagel. Which likely seems obvious to you, but to me this represented a sort of breakthrough. I remembered that the machine was supposed to help me, I was not created to serve the machine and respond to it so that it wouldn’t have to wait on me.

Because I sometimes forget that, and let the machines I’m using – or programs I’m running – or websites I’m reading – or car I’m driving set the pace of the interactions between myself and it and then, rather than having it help me do something, I let its needs or inputs set the pace. And, since the machine pace is different than the human pace, I end up getting increasingly anxious about keeping up. Which is not what’s supposed to be happening before breakfast on your day off…

See the famous scene of Lucille Ball on the candy assembly line for another and funnier example. Or think about an email flame-fest, your twitter mentions blowing up, or late-night Facebook fights as more common ones too. This technology was supposed to free us to live more fully into our best selves. It hasn’t. We’ve become slaves to the pace of the technology in our lives.

My “epiphany” this first week of Epiphany was that I don’t have to let myself get caught up in the machine pace of daily life, especially when I’m on a break.

And that started me thinking about other ways that I let the world around me set the agenda rather than my being more thoughtful and intentional about setting it for myself. Now of course there are multiple counterexamples where it’s clear that we need to respond to circumstance as circumstances dictates. But a toasted bagel and a washing machine is not in that category. The laundry can wait a moment while I enjoy my warm bagel.

So, I’m thinking about what it would be like if this coming year, I was more intentional about when I get to set the speed at which I live, and slow down when ever I can.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...