Part 1: The Lesson – Aloha friends and family. As I composed this thought I was flying over the Pacific Ocean on a return flight with my husband after a one-week stay in paradise. I was not in the islands long enough to write my version of Gifts from the Sea. (Although it was tucked in my carry-on and stowed under the seat in front of me for possible inspiration.) However, I was gone long enough to learn something I want to record before my feet hit the ground running. I want to remember how lovely it can feel to slow it down, and enjoy the speed limit.
For me it is quite the work to put my life together so I can go on a trip. There are always some fast-moving days before boarding a plane. Then there is the rush around the airport and the stress of the seating. I love the window. My husband loves the aisle, and with three seats together we obviously both can’t have it our way. Then there are the quick layovers with the rush rush rush to the gate and the “do I need my ID again and where is that other boarding pass” moments. Seven days ago when I finally got settled in my seat for the long flight over the ocean I hardly knew what to do with myself. There was the possible visit with the stranger next to me, the complimentary magazine in the pocket in front of me, the menu of games, movies, and music on the screen above the magazine, and the bag of personal activities (books and journal) underneath me. Even with no expectations from anyone in the world, my head was still going a hundred miles per hour.
It was a little after dark as our plane settled to a slow halt on the island of Kauai. We headed to the ramp, and off the plane, collected our luggage and found Hertz. Because of my husband’s heart defibrillator I would be the driver on this adventure. “There’s your car right there, Mrs. Wiggins. It’s the white one,” the man in the flowered shirt said with an “aloha” dotting the end of his words. Good grief, I thought. If he only knew how terrified I am to drive that lovely white car into the unknown. I stood in the warm humid summer air as a light rain bathed my skin with the essence of Hawaii and felt truly transported. However, as I thought about getting behind the wheel of my first rental car, piloting us all over this strange island for five days, and returning it without incident I felt six instead of sixty. Maybe you can relate to the feeling of being required to do something scary now, that you should have become accustomed to decades ago.
We threw the luggage in the trunk and I took my seat behind the foreign wheel.
“What? You don’t use a key to start the car?” I questioned the trusting Hertz employee. The line of concern between my eyes became a tad more engraved.
“No, you just put your foot on the brake, push this button, and the car will start, but don’t lose the key!”
I pushed the button on the dashboard. Then I pushed the round black button on my cell phone, summoned Siri, and asked her to help me find my way. Then, feeling like I had the words “student driver” tattooed on my forehead, I inched my way out of the parking lot with trepidation and headed down the road as directed.
Now I am not going to give you a travelogue of our very wonderful trip. But I do want to share with you that my fear about driving was very short-lived, and why.
First of all Siri knows this island like that back of her hand (or the back of her whatever). The point is she never let me down. And when I missed a turn or two or three, she didn’t get grumpy with me. She simply took me in the right direction from whatever wrong road I had gotten myself onto. I love that woman!
The other thing that saved me were the little white speed limit signs generously and strategically placed on every highway and byway. As I drove out of the rental car parking lot to the hotel that first night, I started at my usual pace, only to be shamed by a local observer. “Slow down you mainlander,” he motioned with his hand. That’s when I started focusing on the numbers on the speed limit signs—25mph, 15, then 35 for a minute, then back to 25 and maybe up to 40 for a short stretch. There was no place on this island where people are allowed to drive fast. Fast was fifty, not eighty. And slow was fifteen, not twenty-five.
One day I got a little bit lost, and we found ourselves driving through pineapple fields. I didn’t see a car or a person the whole time we were in the maze, but I sure did see the signs. Apparently the appropriate speed for pineapple fields is fifteen and no more. Time after time during the week I found myself going too fast, too fast for a town, too fast for pineapple fields, too fast! I finally figured out how to turn on the cruise control and used it to keep my lead foot within the boundary.
So what does all this have to do with coming home with something to share besides chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. Well, it’s simple really.
I live my life at high speed. Anyone remember Mister McFeely who ran the Speedy Delivery service in Mister Rogers” Neighborhood?–—Always nice but always on the move. Well, too often I am he. Or, perhaps you remember Tevya’s quick glance at Motel’s sewing machine in Fiddler on the Roof. Sometimes that’s me. One time my son walked in the house and found me lying on the couch watching TV. He was in shock. I am a multitasker’s multitasker. You get the picture. When I give a talk or teach a lesson my husband often says something that makes me crazy! He says, “Nannette, faster is not always better.” And you know what, he is right!
The message I left the island with was this: Slow down, Nannette. The road is not the only thing with speed limits. A well-lived life has speed limits. True, there are times to move fast, but there are far more moments when slow is best.
Part 2: The Reminder – I recorded this message as I traveled home with my head literally in the clouds. Easier said than done, I guess. Once I hit the ground it did not take too long to forget what I had learned. But God is on to me. He is not about to let me forget what he took me across the Pacific to teach me. So, He conspired with my mother one day to remind me. Just as I was about to get going on my work for the day, my mother called.
“Hi..Umm… I want you to come over right now. Can you do that?”
“Sure. What’s up? What do you need?”
“I just need you to come be with me?”
“O…K..,.” I said slowly with a question in my voice.
“Come in the back yard,” she replied
I grabbed my sunglasses. My day was already closing in on me. I had not exercised yet and had so much to do. Maybe after I helped mom with whatever I could head out and get my walk in.
I opened the chain link gate and walked in the backyard, the yard she keeps so beautifully, and that I rarely visit. There she sat in her sunny yellow t-shirt.
“Come sit here by me.” I took a seat in the vacant beige plastic lawn chair beside her.
“Isn’t this just beautiful!” she said, as her aged nearly blind eyes surveyed the scene.
I looked at the clear blue sky, the full summer trees, the pink petunias, the green lawn, and the little children playing on the vast field on the other side of her chain-link fence.
“Yes, it is beautiful,” I agreed, feeling just a little puzzled.
“Well,” she paused. “I just wanted you to see it.”
For about 10 minutes we talked about the blessing of living in such a lovely place and how the Lord had directed her to just this spot forty-four years ago after my father died, leaving her with seven children to raise.
Her tape recorder sat on her lap. “Listen to this,” she said. She pressed a button on the device and together we listened to the verses of The Book of Mormon that describe the time when angels came down and surrounded the children with fire and when Jesus healed the people and prayed to Heavenly Father for them.
Somehow I felt surrounded and healed and prayed for myself in that moment. Without really saying it, my mother had invited me to slow it down and enjoy the speed limit. She wanted me to feel and see, for just a few minutes, what I miss when I travel through life so quickly.
When I was in the seventh or eighth grade my English teacher had us all read a play and memorize a monologue from it. I read Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In the story a girl, Emily, dies and is given the opportunity to return and observe a specific day in her life as it had been lived. Emily chooses to relive her twelfth birthday. As she observes her Mama scurrying around, she watches carefully and speaks with a perspective only the heavenly possess. Though her Mama cannot see her or hear her she pleads,
Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama!… But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back—up the hill—to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
I cried when I first read these words. I knew Mr. Wilder was trying to teach me something important. I cry reading it today, knowing that slowing down and really looking and listening and fully living is something I am still working on.
My experience with my Mama was a little bit different from Emily’s. It was an invitation to a hurry hurry in the flesh daughter who still has time to slow it down.
Oh, Nannette, look at me one minute as though you really see me. For a moment now we’re together. Just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another and at all the beauty and wonder that surround us! It goes so fast, Nannette.
Emily leaves us with this question, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every,every minute?” My answer to Emily is, “Probably not.” But I can do better. We can probably all do a little better. Today as I move from one thing to another and from one precious person to another, I want to ask myself, “What’s the speed limit here?” I want to be more aware of the 15 mile per hour moments in my life. And when I recognize them I want to be willing to take my foot off the gas, ease onto the brake, set the cruise control if I must. I want to slow it down and enjoy the speed limit.