My kids’ head of school, said the other night, at an online parent meeting:
“If you could join me, adults, . . . in a small ‘pinky pact’ . . . when we read articles about students, ‘losing ground’ or ‘falling behind’, that we might take those metaphors and set them aside and talk about how we’re on a train together, and that train has slowed down. What can we do to engage deeper in the scenery that we have access to [now], so that when our train starts moving faster again, we’ll all feel just fine about it? Our students right now will become adults. And there’s no reason to think they’ll be less prepared adults than we are currently, or the adults who came before us. In fact, because of this they may be better prepared for adulthood, even if they’ve had a small slowdown in the rate of math facts that they’ve accumulated through their academic career.”
We are all on this train together. We are no longer racing along at the pace of life that we were accustomed to. And when we were, we knew, most of us knew, it was an unsustainable speed. And now it’s slowed down. And we are slowed down.
What is the scenery on this slower ride?
How can we take in the ride more intentionally?
Over twenty years ago, my husband Andy and I spent three months in Australia. We mostly traveled between cities by plane. But once, we decided to take a train so we could “get a feel for the size of the country.” We didn’t even go that far—Cairns to Brisbane—a 2 hour and 5 minute flight.
But this train, friends, it went like 30 mph. We puttered along and puttered along, and when we passed through tiny towns, we slowed down even more. School buses passed us. Kids on bikes passed us. Dogs ran alongside us barking.
We were on that train for two days. Interesting people got on and off. I found a novel in the dining car and read the whole thing. Andy’s shirtless, overall-wearing sleeper-car mate showed him his toe-missing bare foot. We heard rural Australian accents—different than city talk. We felt ourselves in a different culture. Acutely. Out the windows, we saw vast stretches of nothing but bushland. Sunset, sunrise, sunset . . .
We are on a slow train right now. All of us, together.
One thing that might help is to have different expectations of ourselves, of the world. Yesterday I went to get labs done, something I need to have done every six weeks or so. I have done this by walking in and being checked in for a lab appointment three times since COVID began. But yesterday I was told, “Since COVID, we don’t take walk-ins. You will have to make an appointment.” I made one for today, and had to come back to the doctor’s office. Driving through construction to the doctor’s office, and back again felt like about all I had in me when it came to outings and errands. A friend and I were laughing about how we define a “full” day now, as compared to when we were all on a speeding train. I imagine it’s not easy for the doctor’s office to slow down so much either.
A wise friend who spent many years living in another country (the one with the great wisdom about being in another culture, which I shared in another devotion) said today: “I am reminded over and over of the culture adjustment metaphors. When I arrived in Senegal, the departing worker told me, ‘You can do three things a day. When you go into town, do three, no more. Doesn’t matter how big or small they are, cap it at three. Go to the bank, that’s one. Then if you buy a pen from a street vendor, that’s two. Pick up some eggs. That’s three. Don’t do any more.’ I think about that so much these days. I tell myself, ‘Do three things.'”
We are in another culture: COVID Culture. It’s nobody’s place of origin, nobody’s home base or first language. Everything is different. Everything takes so much more effort. Everything is more exhausting. Do three things in a day. No more.
And let’s be on this slow train together. Let’s figure out how to ride well at this speed. Notice what’s outside the windows. Take in the scenery. See our fellow passengers. Rest while we can. Let conversations be longer. Find things to read. Notice the kids and the dogs. Surrender to the journey.
As a way of integrating all this and connecting to God, perhaps tonight before we go to bed, whatever time that is in each of our homes, we can pray in this way, and so join our souls with each other and the people of the whole earth:
Lord, give me patience to live at this pace.
Give me grace for my fellow travelers.
Give me peace in the small gifts around me.
Give me joy in the surprises that await notice, when I’m going slow enough to take them in.
Give me trust that the journey has a destination.
Give me hope about the quality of life available in this slower ride, that I may not yet have discovered.
Give me patience with myself and for others.
Give me discipline to do three things a day. No more.
Let this time prepare me for what’s next, in ways I can’t yet see.
Let this time shape us for what we can be.
*Reverend Kara K. Root is the pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church (Minneapolis), a mother of two teens, and spouse of a theologian. She leads Sabbath retreats and blogs regularly at “in the hereandnow”.