Why We Can’t Stop Rushing

Why We Can’t Stop Rushing

A friend and I remind each other regularly of a radio news segment she heard years ago. The reporter concluded the story, about a mess of delays on the Long Island Rail Road, with the line, “These commuters are ready for this day to be over, once and for all.” Of course the message was the commuters wanted to get home and have dinner and go to bed already. But the finality of “once and for all” made it sound as though the commuters were so fed up that they wanted to end that day and all days. Or, as my friend wrote: “Certainly at one point the day will definitely be over once and for all for each of us. Is that what we’re rushing toward?”

This obsession with being done with things, of living life like an endless to-do list, is ridiculous. I find myself sometimes having a lovely time, out to dinner with friends, say, and I’ll notice an insistent hankering for the dinner to be over. Why? So I can get to the next thing, who cares what the next thing is, just keep going. Keep rushing, even through the good parts.

In Marie Howe’s poem “Hurry,” she describes running errands with a child in tow. “Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,” she urges, as the little one scampers to keep up. Then she wonders: “Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave? / To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?”

This is not novel advice, to stop and smell the roses, to be here now, to slow down. But it’s not easily heeded. Our culture, now as ever, rewards hustle. The Silicon Valley maxim “Done is better than perfect” can be constructive when applied to procrastination. But we bring it to bear on situations in which “done” is not necessarily a desirable goal.

Since my subway incident, I’ve been trying to notice when I’m rushing, physically and psychologically. “Where are you going?” I ask myself. “And why are you in such a hurry?” That pause helps put a little space between here and there, and might, with any luck, avert future misery.

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