A famous song of the Great Depression was “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Today we might change that title to “Mother, Can You Spare Some Time?”
If you’re in the peak years of your life, odds are you’re sprinting through most of your days. You’re running flat-out as fast you can, like so many others around you, and you’re getting lots accomplished, which is all to the good.
But sometimes you may feel that some ingredient for happiness is missing. You aren’t sure what it is, but you sense some key component of the good life is eluding you, lost in the day’s hectic schedule.
Let’s say you’re an ambitious 30-something accountant in a large firm. Your spouse teaches part-time English composition in a community college, you’re blessed with a preschooler and a first-grader, and you spend weekends and evenings tending to their needs, making repairs to your home, attending a worship service, and driving your widowed mother around town on her errands.
And every night you fall exhausted into bed, feeling as if that race you’ve just run has no finishing tape.
Life couldn’t be fuller. Or could it?
In his book “Character Building: A Guide for Parents and Teachers,” David Isaacs discusses how the practice of certain virtues and principles can enhance our lives. In one chapter, he writes that “the complete rapport between how one acts and how one feels in one’s heart” allows us to meet situations and people as authentic persons. Coupled with the virtue of prudence, Isaacs tells us, this sincerity of spirit frees us from those destructive behaviors that might otherwise sap our time, energy, and enthusiasm—“trying to project a false image of oneself,” for example, engaging in sarcasm or backbiting, or worst of all, forgetting the main point of the race we’re running.
Let’s return to that 30-something accountant. In good conscience, he can’t make too many alterations to the timetable of his days. Work, his wife, his children, his mother, the house, and some civic responsibilities are non-negotiable obligations.
But this man may find greater happiness when he performs these duties by practicing authenticity, by embracing the moment. When he greets a colleague at work in the morning, he deepens that brief encounter with a smile and a friendly inquiry about her family. He cheerfully handles his duties in the office and listens—truly listens—to his clients. On the drive home, he shrugs off the worries of work so that when he enters the house he’s ready to give his wife a hug, listen to the kids chatter about their day, help prepare supper, and share some alone time with his spouse once the kids are asleep. When he drives his mother to the pharmacy or the grocery store, he leaves the radio off and has a conversation with Mom. After that worship service, he sticks around and visits with others in the congregation, showing a real interest in them.
Many of us can’t escape running the race. Obligation and responsibility push us forward every day. But when we make this effort to connect to people, when we live fully in the moment, when we’re genuine, we may find joy in the running and may even slow the pace a bit.
“Festina lente,” the Roman emperor Augustus was fond of saying. “Make haste slowly.”
Engage the moment and the people around you, and see what happens.