"Always too eager for the future, we pick up bad habits of expectancy. Something is always approaching; every day Till then, we say," Philip Larkin, Next Please
Sometimes I feel as if I’m always in a hurry, rushing from one task to the next with barely a breath between. What’s the rush? It’s as if I think something more important, or something better, is just around the corner – once the dishes are done, that is.
Like most children of the seventies I had a beloved collection of Ladybird books (they’re still on my shelves today, still beloved) and Aesop’s fables were a particular favourite. For here be villagers crying wolf, foxes without tails, geese atop golden eggs. And a tortoise who won the race. Needless to say most of Aesop’s clever morals passed me by for some time, I even identified more closely with the hare (I was a sprinter, so obviously it is the fastest who wins) and simply resolved never to fall asleep during a race and thus allow a slower contestant to overtake.
But soon enough I worked it out: kindness often gets things done more quickly than force; it is wiser to be content with what you have. And the race is not always to the swift.
Slow and steady is the key. Like the pre-schoolers of Mischel’s Marshmallow Test in the early seventies at Stanford, we try to learn patience, delaying gratification so that appreciation follows. Rather than rushing through life trying to get to something else I can treasure small moments, listen to birdsong, maybe even enjoy washing the dishes. In short, I can be here. Now.
R.S. Thomas was right – life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is life and it is now. Likewise with lockdown easing, vaccine rollout, getting back to ‘normal’ – slow and steady wins the race. We’ll get there.
And waiting at the finish line will be a happy tortoise who reaches out his wrinkly hand to congratulate us on our slow journey and shared wisdom.