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Go Fast -- Slowly

By Beth Norcross

Autumn leaves

Some years ago, a few friends invited me to join their 3-on-3 half-court basketball team. I considered myself to be a relatively athletic person, and it looked fun, so I joined in. The word pathetic comes to mind when I think about my play. My friends thought that given my abnormal height, they could teach me how to play. They were wrong. It was all happening too fast – the ball coming at me, people whizzing by me. I couldn’t think, much less react.

One of my teammates -- who in fact could play the game, and seemed to be able to take the time to think things through and at the same time act quickly when she needed to -- took me aside one day. She shared with me some advice her dad had given her when she was a little girl, “Go fast, but do it slowly.”

Well, that advice helped some, but I have to admit that I never really succeeded at basketball, despite the fact that I towered over most players.

However, those words came back to me the other day, as I was sitting on my front porch watching autumn emerge among the trees and garden. As the fall equinox approaches, the frenetic and fertile summer season seems to be giving way to a slower, more contemplative way of being. As tree growth stops, black gums and dogwood leaves are starting to turn red. Most of the animals have completed their mating rituals so there aren’t as many young ones darting around. Many of the birds have moved south, so the morning songfest is diluted. The cold has quieted the crickets, katydids, and locusts.

While much of the natural world is slowing, there is also a great deal of activity among those who are preparing for the long, spare winter. Squirrels are furiously grabbing acorns, berries, and food stuff, hiding what they can either underground or in their pouches. Some are so full that they waddle as they run. The birds who remain are busy grabbing the last berries. The red fox is hunting for rodents.

There’s a yes-and quality to this time of year – an integration of slow and fast, stillness and movement, silence and noise. I wonder if there is wisdom in this seeming paradox for us. We are constantly told to slow down, take a breath, chill out. But it’s not that easy in the midst of caring for children or elderly parents, following through on important work commitments, or meeting other responsibilities. There are just times in our lives when we, out of necessity, have to move fast like squirrels, non-migrating birds, and local mammals.

But as we move fast, can we do it slowly? While I observe a great deal of necessary activity in nature this time of year, I also see it only episodically. The squirrels and birds and foxes are not constantly busy. They make time to rest, refresh and renew. As I write this, I picture my plump squirrel friend hanging out in his den in the big white oak tree behind the house, curled up and taking an afternoon snooze.

And, when I do see the scurrying animals, they are scurrying out of necessity, with purpose. They move only when they have to. I find myself wondering if all of our human scurrying around is really necessary. Or do we sometimes do it more out of habit, or anticipation of judgment, or perhaps fear of what we might see or feel if we stop?

Go fast, but do it slowly. While it might not have helped me to succeed on the basketball court, it might help us all to reflect on this fast, but slow change of season.


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