Slow Down, Be Happy
The Angelus Bell at Christ School rings at 8:05 am every morning. Tradition holds everyone in place, quite literally in this case: the entire community stops and waits for the bell to finish ringing before continuing about their day. Our chaplain, Father Brown, says stopping reminds us to get some perspective. To slow down and think about what's important. The bell is central to the experience at Christ School. I can't think of anything else that binds us in the same way. We all stop. We all seek perspective. We all understand why we're doing it.
Yesterday, the administration changed the schedule so boys and faculty could sleep in and get some much-needed rest. Spirits were low and we had all been run hard over the last few weeks. It was a great decision and it made sense to me, because the Angelus Bell reminds me every day to do the same thing. Perspective is the foundation of our school.
I took the opportunity to spend time with my girls, especially my two-year-old, Emerson. I have only taken her to school once this year, and she asks me to take her nearly every day, which, of course, breaks my heart. We dropped her sister off at Glen Arden Elementary and, with an hour on our hands, we decided to go to Starbucks. She ordered her usual - a kid's hot chocolate. And I ordered the dark roast with an extra shot of espresso for kicks. Emerson and I talked and drank from our to-go mugs. Several times I wiped her mouth that was covered in chocolate. When we finished we walked along the sidewalk outside, looking into the windows of closed shops. Emerson found a one-foot concrete perch to jump from, and for the next thirty minutes that's all we did. I held her hand and she jumped and then she climbed back onto the perch and jumped again. It was monotonous and redundant, but I couldn't keep the tears from coming down my face.
It's cliche to say I was struck by the beauty of the moment. Of course I was (to hell with the cliche). That being said, I don't think it was beauty that brought the tears, but humility. We tend to believe that life demands too much from us; at least, I convince myself of that when I'm working, stretched beyond any reasonable limit. But my value sometimes gets wrapped up in how busy I am. If I'm busy, either people or the institution must need me; ergo, I am important. This is a great lie. A crippling lie, actually.
For thirty minutes, I held my daughter's hand while she made fifty jumps. I didn't check my email or Twitter or texts. I simply held her hand and talked to her about each jump. And - in a rare moment of clarity - I didn't think about what else I could be doing. I took the break, spent the time with my daughter, and cried because, for the first time in a while, I remembered our relationship was the point, nothing else. I produced nothing of tangible value.
Each morning I hear the reminder to slow down and gain perspective, but as soothing as the rings of the Angelus Bell are, the fight for slowing down is fierce and real. And you have to give up something when you decide not to busy yourself: you have to give up false importance. WHAT you do isn't the point. It's HOW and WHY you do it that matter. If you aren't intentional about the HOW and WHY, you'll make the WHAT most important. And worse, you'll convince yourself that every task is significant and that only you can do it right, and you will be busy, too busy to hold hands with your daughter while she jumps off a concrete perch. If you are intentional about the HOW and WHY, you will probably produce less - you may even become less valuable at your job - but you will be happier. And I think that's why my tears came. I remembered what happiness felt like again. And it was so simple. I just had to slow down.