In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, a satirical story concerning modern society, religion, and science, there’s this phrase busy, busy, busy that comes up a few times. The narrator explains that it’s said “whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.”  In this way, the narrator just dismisses the unfathomable busy-ness of the world and chooses not to bother himself with it. That’s one approach.
But I’ve got a gripe with people being busy. Everyone from my best friend to the guy grilling up my fast-food seems to be in a constant rush. We’re caught doing ten things at once, weaving laundry lists of to-dos, and locking ourselves into a go, go, go mindset. And when it comes time to relax, many people I know claim that they “don’t have the time.” Well, time isn’t really that elusive of a thing: it’s always there, the secondhand still spinning. It’s only a matter of making time, finding time, allocating time to various pursuits. For many people, all the time gets delineated towards the rush of frantic business.
The rush used to govern my life. It still does, just to a lesser degree. I like to think of it as a guideline rather than a codified system of governance. I’ve been in such a rush recently that I delayed writing this blog post for four whole days!
Lucky for me, I’ve starting to fight off the busy feelings and learned to settle down a little bit. That wasn’t so much the case a few days ago. That era breathed with busy, busy, business.
I was running, nothing less than a headlong sprint. My surroundings blurred past me, looking like those wacky paintings smeared with odd colors. I’m surprised that I didn’t trip.
By the time that I’d arrived at my destination, I was panting. I sped past a few people, who themselves walked deliberately, and found my seat in a massive auditorium. I was late.
The music sounded a while after that. Readings were read, more hymns sung. Everything seemed a blur. In my head, I was planning out my day—books to be read, websites to be visited. After the communal procession I sat down to hear a series of speeches that would center me a little more, forcing me to reconsider the whole rushing notion.
A vigorous old man delivered the first speech. He spoke of how all these different parts work collectively in a whole and how we all benefit from setting aside our individual desires to take part in one body. He said that we can’t attribute to ourselves all the hasty good that we do, that the real source of good is found elsewhere. Honesty, modesty, and charity were what he preached. The mental formation of my daily plans began to slow, as I honed in on the speaker.
The next man was a white-haired provost, dressed in long red vestments. He spoke about how everyone in the auditorium was a bunch of praise-worthy overachievers, how we had all of these activities going on, how one of us was part of 25 student organizations—twenty-five!
But amidst all that rush, he reminded us, we ought not to forget everything else going on. We ought not to let the simple things of life just pass by in the haze of meetings, classes, tryouts, and accolade grabbing. I was hooked. I don’t want life to pass me by! How am I to enjoy the journey and not worry chiefly about the destination, as my mother has oft told me?
This was his simple proposal: Stop for a moment and listen. Truly listen to what someone else has to say. Listen with intent. Grasp every word, holding it in your mind a while, chewing it over.
So I tried that, when I found the time (not had, found). I was drawn into a chapel by a euphony of piano chords. At the grand piano sat an entranced man, tapping away at the ivory keys.
I recognized this man from amidst my daily rush. I remembered his name because it was truly one-of-a-kind. Jesus-is-Lord, he is called.
“Hey, Jesus-is-Lord,” I yelled over the rift of music. He stopped, removing some ear buds from the side of his head.
“Hey, what’s up?” his smile said. And then we talked. And I listened for a long time.
He told me about how music praises God, and how he improvises these streams of chords into a spiritual expression. It helps him to center to himself, he told me. It lets him slow down.
I just tried that trick that I had learned from listening to Jesus-is-Lord minutes ago, actually. I had many other things to do, but I found a piano and played (granted, I have played before). My wrists are sore. There is much left to do. But in abandoning the rush I feel the real rush, the rush of God’s spirit inspiring my interactions. I used to live in what mostly felt like an electric field of busy, busy, busy. Now I feel a little more like I’m floating along a stream, taking in the setting as I go. Never have I been happier.
1. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle, “Dynamite Money,” (New York: Delacorte Press, 1963), 61.