I was walking down the street a couple of weeks ago and a book was lying on a bench with a sign that said, “Free,” on it. In keeping with my “If it’s free, it’s for me” life philosophy (aka freganism) I picked it up and was delighted to see that it was a dictionary of foreign phrases. A lover of languages and a former enthusiastic albeit underachieving Latin student, I was thumbing through it later that evening, trying on my most outrageous French and German accents, when the following phrase caught my attention in the chapter of Greek phrases by way of Latin:
Festina Lente: ‘Hurry Slowly’ or ‘More Haste, Less Speed'”
I was reminded of it this morning, as I sped through the house trying to be ultra-efficient, being sure to always walk from one room to another with something in my hand to put back in place, to pick up the bathroom as I got ready, to fold laundry as I got dressed in my bedroom. After 45 minutes I had made little progress other than to give myself a major case of the jitters, all while my daughter yelled from downstairs while she waited for me, “Mom, what are you doing up there?” In the name of being faster, more productive, more efficient, I was none of them. Barely dressed, definitely stressed. The opposite of “Festina Lente,” for sure.
It’s easy to be aware that I’m rushing-yet-getting-nothing-done, but hard to change the habit. In this journey as a parent of a child with special needs, it’s tempting to want to believe that we will be happier and more content if we could just hurry up through this particular stage/challenge/meeting/doctor’s appointment/tantrum and get it over with.
The rushing isn’t just in the small moments, but in the big arc of the story too. Telling ourselves things like: “When we get this out-of-district placement, everything will be great.” “After this surgery, I’ll be able to relax.” “If the insurance company would just approve this treatment, everything would be fine.” It rarely turns out that way, but it too is a difficult thought pattern to break.
I can see from my flailing this morning rushing — whether rushing to get the hell out of a yucky emotion or place of powerlessness — rarely gets me thing other than stress. I’m determined to ease up, live in a “less haste, more speed” kind of way.
In that vein and in the spirit of these last lazy days of summer, I am reminded of a favorite poem by Greek poet Constantine Cafavy. If you’ve read this far, you might enjoy it too.
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
Pray that the road is long. Festina lente. “The days are long, but the years are short,” as a wise woman wrote in a response to my last post. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I hope I remember to enjoy it.