Slow down and smell the coffee

"What's our rush?" asks Terrace B.C. writer as he ponders the pace of life and movement of time



Mahatma Ghandi “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

The re-configurations of Lakelse Avenue and of Kalum Street heading north toward the bench seem, as much as anything else, an effort to slow drivers down.

It’s a defensively laudable goal, likely to prevent numerous traffic accidents, and perhaps even save a life or two. Ah, to slow down and smell the coffee!

True, there’s a certain pleasure in stepping on the gas and feeling the thrust of acceleration. But we need limits on this indulgence.

Speed kills, especially when the speeding vehicle collides with muscle and bone. As Lucy observed in Peanuts, any contest between sidewalks and knees, the sidewalk always wins.

Yesterday I watched about thirty seconds of a NASCAR race, stock cars monotonously zipping around a track in pursuit of some evanescent honour. One of the cars spun out and caromed off a wall, flames erupting from its mangled structure. Hearts pound and bodies burn. It was at least 29 seconds wasted.

What’s our rush, anyway? Aside from real emergencies (ambulance trips, fire responses), the frenetic “need for speed” can’t be terribly good for us.

The significance of emergencies dictates the requirement for speed. But in our society it seems as if unnecessary speed somehow imbues significance on relatively pointless tasks.

We seem to understand that time objectively exists, its reality a constant, regular passage measured by everything from pendulum swings to the atomic vibration of Cesium. We also sense time as a kind of plasticine experience, shaped by psychic pressure and by our attention to the fleetness of pleasure and the persistence of pain.

Hours, days, weeks scroll past with the regular repetitions of meals and sleeps. Birthdays appear and disappear like blips on some cosmic radar. Schedules and agendas direct our attention. Governments enact five-year plans. Corporations plan future acquisitions and restructurings. Public and religious holidays divide and apportion the year.

There must be something reassuring about all of this regularity. In a world where the arrival of our demise can range from the twelve-minute delivery time of a nuclear warhead to a climate Armageddon a century from now, the predictability (and savour-ability) of tomorrow’s breakfast is something to treasure.

“Time, gentlemen, please!” Once when British pubs’ closing times were policed, the publican would warn his patrons attention to renew their last drinks of the evening. Glancing into one’s stein, one could imagine time running away like the dregs of one’s pint. No! No! Just one more!

And its interesting how our thoughts about time are often flavoured with mystery.

“Where do all these highways go, now that we are free?” sang Leonard Cohen.

Choices seem predicated on the idea that time will always be there to carry them out.

American historian Will Durant observed that, “No man who is in a hurry is quite civilized.” Insofar as to be civil is to be courteous and polite, civilization is the art of attending not only to our own priorities, but also to the needs and aspirations of others. Such considerations require thought, and thought requires time.

The paradoxes inherent in our perception of time can be humorous as well as serious. In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 Yossarian was determined to live forever or die trying. Another character, Dunbar, wanted to live as long as possible by making time pass as slowly as possible, causing him to treasure boredom and discomfort.

Adolescence is virtually synonymous with impatience. Partially lost between the semi-consciousness of childhood and the imminent and terrifying responsibilities of adulthood, youth seem constantly eager to get the latter under way, to expand their experience into a world of stimulation beyond the boundaries of their past: sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll! Sleep!? Who has time for that! (Except on Saturday mornings…) Of course, it’s easy to be critical of the haste of youth from the armchair of retirement. It’s just another predictable stage marking the passage of a life.

Watching the smooth flow of traffic now on Lakelse, one finds the orderly, one-at-a-timeness of its movement a pleasant change to the elbow-to-elbow, mirror-bumping rush that used to characterize our main avenue.

It’s nearly back to the human scale of pedestrian traffic! Yes! Is that coffee I smell?

Terrace Standard