Have you ever used a word, a common, ordinary, everyday sort of word, only to realize that this word, this most basic, seemingly average word, doesn’t mean what you think it means to someone else?
You wake up one day, and through a series of conversations and choices, you are suddenly aware that you and this other person have been using this same word as a road map for years but interrupting its meaning very differently. And the moment this awareness hits you, is the moment when you are standing on opposite sides of a pond or a street or a life. It is then that it occurs to you, that while you thought you were following the same meaning of the same word, you were really on separate paths – paths separated so narrowly, that you never even noticed, until you found yourself separated by a gulf. A gulf of assumptions and confusion and frustration, a gulf that began with a small, hairline misunderstanding of one word. One small, simple, ordinary word.
For Sweet Man and I the word was SLOW.
Slowness, Going Slow, Slowing Down.
We have tossed this word and these terms around for the past three or four years.
We have used them as we have worked to create a family motto or mission statement (though I hate that term…) We have used them as we have made choices that led us to the place we are now. We have used them to describe to each other the sort of life that we long for. I have written about them and we have extolled them.
Living Slow is something we feel called to as a family. It is a calling rooted in our faith, and grounded in spiritual practices.
As it turns out, we didn’t mean the same thing.
As it turns out, Slow to me and Slow to Nathan are two different speeds.
Which should be no surprise, since we are the Tortoise and the Hare.
Over the course of the late summer, as the dust began to settle from The Year of Upheaval (as it shall be known hitherforward,) we found ourselves on opposite side of the pond.
Him wondering why I was still Doing So Much and me wondering why he wasn’t Doing More Quicker to get us settled, (which would mean I could finally slow the non-stop tickertape to-do list that was running 24/7 at warp speed.)
It turns out that for all the years we have talked about Living Slow, what Nathan heard in that term was Do Less. But what I heard was Do It Differently.
When I dreamed of slowing down, what I dreamed of was doing life in such a way that the anxiety producing ticking time bomb inside my chest would finally move out. To me this didn’t mean doing less or doing more, it just meant doing differently. It meant doing life with more intention. With clearer vision. Without the constant nagging burden of comparisons and rat races and keeping up with whatever it was I thought I needed to keep up with.
But when Sweet Man dreamed of slowing down, he literally dreamed of things in our life slowing down externally. Less to-do list, less outside obligations, less momentum, less.
But here is the rub. I like outside obligations. And my job requires quite a few of them. Which I like. I like being a certain level of busy. I get energy from it.
And I like to-do list and I like pushing everyone hard to get things done.
Because when things get done, when list get marked off, that time-bomb that keeps pounding away in my chest shuts up, and then I can, and only then, can I breathe again.
But Nathan does not get energy from being busy and he doesn’t have a ticking-time bomb in his chest.
He gets energy for lots of wide open spaces. He gets energy from getting lost in the minutiae of one solitary project worked on here and there over several open-ended days.
So, once we realized that we were standing on the opposite sides of the pond, (this realization brought on by a certain mini-pig and a very busy August,) we came to the conclusion that there must be various speeds of Slowness.
There is Nathan Slow and there is Jerusalem Slow just to name two. (We also suspect that there is also Wylie Slow and Miles Slow.)
And if eighteen years of marriage has taught us anything it is this:
Our relationship and our home are much happier places when we focus more on supporting each other, and less on trying to reform each other.
So, instead of trying to convert the other to our way of living slow (because frankly I would scratch my eyeballs out in boredom and he would probably rather jump off a cliff that keep my schedule, ) what we can do is support, protect, encourage, and nurture each other in our practices of Slow Living. I can choose to do a few less things in order to give Nathan the time and space and freedom to move externally at a slower pace. He can choose to spend a weekend helping me knock-out my list in order to shut the damn time-bomb up.
I can go on a social outing alone in order to protect his need for some barn time and he can tell me to have a great time and to stay out as late as I need to, encouraging me to rest in a way that is vital to my soul-health, but counterintuitive to his.
We can both choose to be intentional to work towards finding a happy family speed of slowness, a compromise that has our families well-being at heart, instead of just our preferences. And we can trust each other’s motives and heart, when we get a little to far down the path of our speed, to call each other back into a relationship of partnership, working to Live Slow together, instead of slowly drifting apart.
After all, as Kathleen Norris so wise wrote – “How radical to think that we can best know ourselves by embracing commitment, not rejecting it; by relating to others, not callously relegating them to the devilishly convenient category of “other.”
In other words, how radical would it be to discover that I can live slowly at my speed most fully, when I embrace, not reject, Nathan’s speed of slowness as valid? Now wouldn’t that just be the bees knees?