3rd Grade. A blissful time. Surrounded by friends in Miss Brock’s giraffe-themed classroom, I was preparing to leave for Christmas break. As our last task of the day, we were instructed to make a wreath to give to our parents. The “leaves” of the wreath would be made from cut-outs of our hands, with a hand-written, heartfelt message in the center. Steven Smith, one of my friends, sat across the classroom. The two of us were locked in an endless struggle to see who could be the first to complete a task. And we both had a disregard for spending a large quantity of time on a project that we could get done in a short amount of time.
Shortly after the last phase of our craft was announced (a page long note), Steven and I both put our noses to the grind. Our pencils flying, scribbling out the beautiful mess of 3rd grade cursive, with little concern for the margins or lines. Who cared what it looked like as long as it was done!? As time wound down, we would shoot glances over at the other, hoping to catch a tell of how far along the other was. I groaned inwardly as Steven made his way up to Miss Brock’s desk as I finished writing my last sentence. So close!
But wait! Steven was sent back to his desk, project in hand. Aha! I triumphantly made my way to Miss Brock’s desk as Steven sat down. She looked at my wreath and meticulously examined my handiwork. She smiled, shook her head, and handed it back to me saying “You missed something.”
I was bewildered. I sat down at my place and hurriedly glanced up and down my project. What could she mean? My eyes darted back and forth from my paper to Steven, as his eyes did the same to me. I couldn’t notice what she was talking about! After a few moments, I noticed a small punctuation error. I corrected it and returned to Miss Brock’s desk. It only took a second for her to look down, and grinning, hand it back to me. Steven and I both made 4-5 trips up to Miss Brock’s desk, only to return back to our seat trying to figure out what we missed. Soon, Eleyna walked to Miss Brock, and quietly handed her the wreath. Miss Brock looked at it for a minute or two, and then accepted it as Eleyna walked away.
GAH!! I couldn’t be first now! What could I do!? I attempted to be more focused in my review reading my paper aloud in my head. What was I missing!?? Steven was finding himself with the same problem. We made more trips up, only to be sent back. Shortly, Kara, Nellie, Gabe, Sam, Rose, Tyler and others began turning their projects in. I couldn’t believe it. Steven and I soon found ourselves at the end of a line, waiting to be done. As others walked back to their desks complete, I arrived at Miss Brock’s desk for about the dozenth time. Only then did I see my mistake. In the middle of my paper, was the word “renumber” erroneously replacing the word “remember.” Embarrassed, I handed in my wreath. Miss Brock slyly smiled as she accepted it. “Kevin, if you don’t learn to slow down every now and then, you’ll find yourself making mistakes like this more and more often.”
I wished I had learned my lesson that day. Those who have known me since my childhood will humorously recall a boy obsessed with speed and quickness. Physically, mentally.. It didn’t matter. In my mind, why would I spend 10 minutes completing a task I could do in 5?
When I was 10, I quickly learned that it would take me an hour and a half to mow the lawn with our self-propelled mower. However, it was the day that our grandparents came to visit that I learned that if I ran behind the mower pushing it, I could finish in just under 50 minutes. Huzzah! Sure, the lawn looked completely uneven and disheveled, but I could honestly tell my dad that I had taken the lawn mower over every section of the yard.
For much of my life, my philosophy has been that same way. Never waste time by doing something you could be doing faster. One of my high-school taglines indicated just as much: “life is way too short to take it slow.”
However, looking back I’ve realized that by flying through life and neglecting to slow down, I’ve missed out on enjoying the sweetest of days. That realization is sadly bitter. Since I thought the best of days were either behind me or in front of me, there was no reason to focus on the present. I would be nostalgic of the past, or optimistic of the future, but there was no way I would try to find joy in the present. It’s like admiring a caterpillar turning into the butterfly, but neglecting the crucial stage that is the chrysalis.
The past was great, and the future is going to be even better. But the present was once the future, and it will soon be the past.
What a sad wisdom this has become, as there are days I surely wish I’d have lived more in the moment. This wisdom, albeit a sad and regretful one, is essential to learning how to live a life found in joy. Because not only is the chrysalis important, its also beautiful.
Though I’ve already made this mistake, I refuse to let myself make it now.
Living a life speedily without truly being in the here and now is like when I ran behind the lawnmower at age 10. At the end of the day, I’ll go to all the same corners and stages, but unless I slow down I won’t have truly ever really been there…