Necessary Stillness

Christine Slocum
January 18 2023

By Christine Slocum

“Sometimes I need

only to stand

wherever I am

to be blessed.”

–Mary Oliver, from "It Was Early"

We can be many things.Friday afternoon? We were traffic. Car traffic. You usually find both of us on bicycles to commute, but work took us too far that day. My colleague lives on the way, so I offered to drive. At day’s end, we were departing downtown.

Theoretically, we were heading towards his home. In practice, we lingered on the same block, advancing one car length per light change. It felt like the street was doing an award-winning performance of a parking lot. I had tried to bypass the highways by cutting through downtown, but a street was closed and the traffic lights were out of sync. It took time.

There was not a single indication of frustration in my colleague’s body, words, or demeanor. I didn't have to be elsewhere for a while. Conversation came easily. I do enjoy his companionship. At the same time, I felt guilty for how long it was taking.

Reflecting on the experience, I realized that I wasn’t impatient for impatience’s sake. It was more that I feel almost a moral obligation towards advancement. It's all progress, improvement, efficiency, the next thing. It’s capitalism, it’s white supremacy, it’s a deeply and viscerally internalized cultural ethic towards forward momentum. It permeates my entire perspective. My discomfort was the dissonance of failing to meet that expectation. There I am, present in necessary stillness, and my body tingles with a version of the same anxiety I feel when I sense my career is stagnating, or I'm failing to become better in all the ways our society suggests we should. Miles per hour or milestones per lifetime: it all feels the same.

When I could be present in the moment, sitting in the car, relaxing my sense of obligation towards speed? That let me recognize the true experience: good company and conversation. Connection makes life rich. This mindset towards "progress" sets me up to miss it.

What other circumstances am I failing to recognize when I don’t embrace the necessary stillness? Where else am I failing to see that the need to exist in the moment is a required part of whatever journey I'm taking? When else am I failing to understand that maybe life doesn't have to be ever-upward in order to be well-lived?

Prayer

May patience teach us presence; may presence show us all of the blessings of the moment and keep our attention on what truly matters.