The other day I was third in line at a stop sign, and couldn’t understand why the cars ahead of me seemed to be taking so long to move through the intersection. (Not that I was impatient…I’ve come to love unexpected pauses throughout the day, when I can just look around and catch my breath.) When it was finally my turn, however, I finally figured out the reasoning behind the slow pace: drivers had two choices.
Drivers could either wait for the necessary break in traffic and madly cross three lanes on the frontage road, in order to reach the highway on ramp that was a few years ahead. Once they made it there, the stress was only just beginning. Drivers then had to quickly accelerate and merge into traffic that was moving so fast, that the cars almost seemed like a blur. This process, from beginning to end, took a few minutes for each car.
Or, they could casually turn into the frontage road and just catch the next on ramp. (Funny, how I am sure many would consider this to be the “slower” version without taking into consideration the stress, risk, and amount of time required to pull of the maneuvers described above.)
Seeing each one of the cars in front of me jump through this gauntlet was so nerve-wracking, that when it was my turn I immediately knew that I wasn’t going to attempt it myself. Instead, I made an easy right turn onto the frontage road, and as I cruised along, with my heart beating at it’s normal rate, I couldn’t help but think about how what I had observed was such a perfect metaphor for life with chronic illness.
I still made it to my final destination, probably a few seconds if not a couple of minutes later than if I had jumped onto the highway; most importantly, I arrived in a manner that was not only more enjoyable, but which was also more safe. And this, as I have learned over the past couple of years, it the healthiest way to pace my activities while dealing with the pain and disability that results from living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Last night I shared a link to a New York Times article called “The Busy Trap,” which talks about Americans’ fascination with keeping busy. The timing of this article could not have been better, as I had just completed a week which included a seven-hour drive across the state of Texas, a four-day stay in a city that I was not familiar with so that I could be by my mother’s side as she recovered from her stroke, driving in the car as my mother was later transferred by ambulance to an impatient inpatient rehab center close to my parent’s house, and then another few days of getting adjusted to her new routine and helping my father get their house back in order. (We still have to rearrange the furniture and make some other modifications, for her eventual return back to the house.)
As most people would agree, it was definitely what many would call a “busy” week. (Update on my mother: she has expressive and receptive aphasia, which means that her ability to speak and to read/listen has been affected; but her spirits remain high and she continues to show improvement each day.) While I was settling into bed last night and reflecting on the events of the previous week (which included my first ever “preemptive” prednisone taper), I decided to stop thinking about how “busy” I had been, and instead think about how happy I was to have been able to help my mother during these challenging days. (My first thought, when I heard the shocking news last Sunday, was that I was happy that I was relatively close by, instead of down in South America where I normally reside.)
Even as my mother continues to have full days of different types of rehab therapy, she too is learning the importance of slowing down. Reading for extended periods causes her energy levels to plummet, so much so that she’s already talked about how what she is now dealing with seems so similar to some of the fatigue/energy issues that I often write about here on my blog. She continues to push herself, but over the past few days I’ve also seen her recognize and respect her new limits.
Sometimes it can seem like having to slow down is the “end of the world;” this is certainly what I thought when I started dealing with RA in my mid-30’s. Now that I’ve experienced the benefits of a slower lifestyle, I am happy that my chronic illness had led my down this path. So while many people stress themselves out to stay on the fast highway, I’ll be perfectly fine slowly cruising down the frontage road.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.