Weekly Edgework #81 - January 16, 2006

Scurrying Through Life

Wow he died as wow he lived, going whop to the office and blooie home to sleep and biff to get married and bam had children and oof got fired. Zowie did he live and zowie did he die. (Kenneth Fearing)

As I look around at people in my world I often get the sense that they are scurrying through life. Busy – oh so busy – flitting about like squirrels in fall gathering acorns and hiding them, most of which they will never find again. When you dare ask what the scurrying is all about you get that funny look that suggests that you probably come from another planet. There is so much to do, they say, and if you don’t keep moving you are bound to miss something worthwhile.

This frenetic pace usually begins early and often extends into old age. My one-year-old granddaughter, Kezia, is quiet but busy. She is in a constant exploration mode as she moves about the room trying out the laps of all adults present and then scooting off to touch and tip anything she can get her hands on. Ruth and I are actually quite proud of her quest for discovery. We would, however, become quite concerned if this would remain her modus operandi throughout life. Somewhere along the way we suspect that her life will take on a more measured pace as she carefully considers what projects to lay aside in favor of more important ones.

But, based on my experience and observations, it seems that many of us never make that transition. No matter at what stage in life we find ourselves we have that hurried look about us even when we sit still. That’s just the way life is, we say. If we don’t scramble we will never catch up! But do we ever catch up by scurrying? Even when we retire, our main complaint seems to be that we just can’t keep up with life.

The frenzied nature of our lives has many and varied roots. For some it is a reflex reaction to the negative image loafers leave in their wake. And to be sure, loafers – those who drift through life with a glazed look of boredom on their faces – do not offer a credible alternative. Parents and teachers have done a good job of pointing out to young people that they should not become like them. So most hurry off in the other direction. Ironically, however, both those who scurry and those who simply drift through life have yet to learn how to engage life fully.

For others a fast-paced lifestyle arises from an unhealthy drivenness rooted in the depth of a wounded soul. Not having known unconditional love in their past, and perhaps having been denigrated too often, such persons are out to prove their worthiness. They must convince themselves, their parents, and their God that they merit being looked upon with favor. The more they do and the more successful they are at what they do, the more they will feel vindicated – that they are worthy after all. Usually this is an unconscious force, but powerful none-the-less. Often such persons become our leaders, even our pastors. And if they do, they tend to use those they “serve” as pawns in the process of covering their own woundedness.

For still others the hurried lifestyle is related to the pursuit of a high lifestyle. Having lost sight of the fact that true joy is found in simple things, they over-extend themselves in the pursuit of wealth. It is the great myth of the western world that unless you have all the securities in place to allow you to live in comfort, if not opulence, till the day you die, you will have missed the boat as far as life is concerned. The truth is that after having our basic needs met, additional resources do not add significantly to one’s sense of happiness or fulfillment. For those who think they do, there is no end to the amount of time and energy they are willing to give to the pursuit of more resources. I have met far too many people who, in retrospect, have come to regret such pursuits. There is a profound sadness in their admission that in spite of all their scurrying, they have largely missed out on life.

There are many other reasons why we imitate squirrels in their nutty ritual. Perhaps the greatest of these is that we are afraid of ourselves. Afraid that if we were to slow down we might catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror. No matter what our history, all of us need to do some deep soul-work to find healing for the broken places in our lives. But the process of healing, especially if it involves major surgery, can be painful and time-consuming. Of course we don’t like pain and generally do all we can to keep it at bay. One of the best ways to keep soul-pain at bay is to keep busy. And so our busyness is characterized more by “running away” from ourselves than by actually being productive in a healthy sense.

Living life to the full is more than scurrying about in a mad dash to get as much packed into our treasuries of money and memory as possible. It is slowing down long enough and often enough to get in touch with who we are when we are not productive in any tangible way. Unfortunately only a few undertake such a measure voluntarily. Given this reluctance to face ourselves honestly when we don’t have to, those whose life circumstances force them into this mode against their wishes should consider themselves fortunate and blessed. It usually happens that when our frantic strategies for living fail in one way or another that we encounter our darkest hour. But it can also be our finest.

Meanwhile the rest of the world scurries by in search of nuts to hide so they can forget where they hid them.