“Walk, don’t run!”
I was a fast runner. I ran everywhere. I remember “running an errand” for a teacher in primary school. While everybody else was in class, I had a clear route, sprinting from one side of school to the other. I pushed my legs to pump faster, willing my toes to skim the ground lightly as I bounded, unencumbered by weight or gravity. I felt like I was flying.
Now my running is more earth-bound but I’m still wired to do things fast. I type fast, talk fast, listen fast, feel fast. I think so fast that I lose track of the many topics I’m processing all at once and have to make a list.
I am a list-maker and the more rapidly I can move through my day’s lists, the sooner I can switch into a lower gear and slow down. When my list is done, I can stop and chat; I can spend some time, hang out and give you my undivided attention. When everything is done...
No one ever taught me this – there was no lesson in school or talk from my parents or text book to guide me - but somewhere along the way I learned that personal interaction came last, that only once I have finished all my jobs for the day can I then sit down, relax, and relate. Relationships came at the end of the list but, in reality, the list never ends.
I’d like to be able to tell you that connecting with you is more important than getting things done and that, when you’re with me, I will give you my undivided attention. But I can’t promise this because, honestly, it’s not always and I won’t every time.
I quietly confess, just between you and me, that getting things done has very often been more important than you. For that, I’m sorry.
Now I live in a culture different from the one in which I was raised. Here in Mozambique, relating comes first. At the top of the list of things to do is “to be”. Be present, be open, be available. Just be.
Just be? Me? A list-making, flow-charting, organising, planning westerner, just being? I’d have to make a list to work out where to start.
Weddings here go on for days. Church goes on for hours. Invited for lunch? There’s no rushing off to get things done – it’s all about celebrating together and it will probably turn into dinner. There’ll be none of this “I’ll just pop in for an hour but then I’ll leave” nonsense. You’re there for the long haul, you’re engaged, you’re accessible. Or you’re not there at all.
At the supermarket checkout, there’s a fluid conversation that transfers itself like a game of verbal tag from one customer to the next as the line moves forward; the scanner and the packer are included and will stop scanning and packing to take part in the conversation or to laugh at a joke. I’m sure the joke has been on me when I’ve been tapping my can of tomatoes on the bench, frustrated that everybody’s chatting while I’m waiting to be served. How excruciatingly inappropriate I have been culturally.
It’s all about people: listening, connecting, knowing one another. How often I’ve run past an opportunity that would have made me a richer person.
Walk, don’t run!
In reality, running through my days may get more done in a practical sense but at what cost? How many rich moments of relating to another person have I missed by running? How much wealthier would I be in relationships if I had learned years ago to walk, not run?
My Mozambican brothers and sisters have taught me much about walking through each day, keeping the main thing the main thing. Surely the main thing is each other. The lists can wait. The jobs will get done eventually.
The world will keep turning.
I am still learning to slow down, to breathe deeply and deliberately when I sense the tension between my desire to walk and my compulsion to run. I can’t say that walking comes naturally to me yet. I am still adjusting to the rhythm of life here. But I’m taking more time than I used to, to be, and that is a good thing.
At the end of the day, I now ask myself, “Did you run or did you walk?”
Today, did you look deeply into someone’s eyes and really, truly listen to their response when you asked how they were? Did you lay an encouraging hand on a child’s shoulder as they told you about their day at school? Did you make a new friend, encourage an old one? Did you share a few silent moments where words weren’t needed and a relationship grew out of effortless companionship?
Did you spend some of your doing time today, just being?
I am learning to walk gently through my days and hope that, when you see me, you’ll stroll along beside me for just a little while.