SLOW DOWN, DON'T MOVE SO FAST:
OUR PACE HAS COSTS
Time abroad helps one family disconnect
from race against time
OUR FAMILY IS GOING THROUGH A MALADY REFERRED TO AS "'REVERSED CULTURE SHOCK." It is re-entry after nearly seven years abroad, and it can be more traumatic than the initial move overseas.
In many ways, it is great to be home. We have gone from bagging our own groceries to having them brought to our car. Our kids are celebrating the land of free refills, while we are appreciating wide aisles, paper or plastic, and Sunday papers. And choices -- who can keep up? It took us a week just to sort out phones, call waiting and long-distance carriers.
Convenience, options, service, coupons, cellular phones and on-line shopping. It has been easy to get back into the system. But at what price?
Coming back to America has come to feel like being in a perpetual hothouse. The heat is always on, and the lights never turn off. Missing in our culture is a sense of rhythm, ebb and flow, stop and go. Nothing, especially commerce, seems to stop.
Some abroad are impressed with our pace. Americans, after all, are miles ahead in mining the economic value of time. A robust economy suggests that Americans know what it takes to be innovative, productive and time-efficient.
But have we lost something in the process? I think so. We might have mined the economic value of time, but like strip mining, we have left a barren soulscape. In our hurry, we seem to have lost our bearings, our sense of proportion.
It's not that things have changed so radically over here; "24 hour" was part of culture long before my family moved abroad. I can still remember the first Seven-11 store that opened when I was a kid. This was a radical step. Convenience stores began to dot the landscape, and it was only a matter of time before someone decided to go for broke and stay open all night.
Still, there is a noticeable change today. It's not just the rhythm of open and close that is now all but gone. It is the rhythm of available and unavailable that is missing. We have gone out of our way to always be accessible.
But availability also is an illusion. More often than not, I am finding it hard to get any personal help. We have established the technology to make connections, but it seems I rarely connect with a living person.
Perhaps my family notices these present cultural changes because we had learned to adjust to a different world -- one not dictated by convenience or competition. It was sane, though we didn't initially appreciate the rhythm of stores closed in the evening and on Sundays, of phones that rang and rang, unanswered. It was a bit like going through detox. We were addicted to running down to the store once we spotted the 13-hour sales, the "hurry while supplies last." Our first Sundays threw us for a loop. We were high on hurry, noise, shopping, NFL and convenience, and now we couldn't sustain any of them.
Now it was quiet. Nothing was open. And save for a snooker championship, or darts, there was little to see on TV.
Gradually, as life moved from the crisis lane, our home was graced with the sound of classical music. We weren't rushing home after church, conscious of the invisible, yet ever-ticking stopwatch. People actually stayed to talk. Meals became fun. Walks in a nearby park filled some of the moments, and I discovered something pretty profound: Space was being created for grace to work.
Getting into rhythm not only breathes back life in a cluttered soul -- it is getting back into step with creation. For if you stop to really look, you discover that cadence is embedded in our world. It is there in the cycles and seasons, in the rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, high tide and low tide, snowfall and run-off. Rhythm is what defines our heart rate, our breathing, our sleep.
In the night, healing and repair and recuperation often take place. We discovered it can also happen in the day.
Here's a challenge.Determine that one day a week is a low-tide day. No runs to the mall, quick trips to the store or shopping over the Internet. Try to avoid letting the time turn into a catch-up day for house repairs and car washing and bill paying. Above all, get disconnected.
Then, do some reflection -- on the promises you have made, the covenants you have once made and determined to keep, as well as the goals you are aiming to reach. Remember who you really are, and realize afresh what is really important. Take stock of the time left before the kids will be on their own. Restore eternity to the soul, get in sync with what is real.
Only by seeing where we have been can we hope to have a clue to where we need to be going. And then, life may just not be so loony -- so banal and profane -- reduced to punching keys. Life will once again be anchored down.
JOHN E. JOHNSON
John E. Johnson, who teaches
Share YOUR Thoughts