Ian on Sunday – The unrelenting hustle of life – By Ian McDonald

Our lives of such infinite value come and go in a whirl of busyness.  We hasten and hustle and there is never enough time and always too much information.  The hours trip over themselves as they pass into eternity.  You will never have them back so regret every one not spent as you would really wish them to be spent.

The trouble is that human beings now aspire too fiercely to simultaneity and omniscience.  Perhaps it is an ancient wish come true to be like God who said “Let there be light!” and at once there was light.  We want to be where we only have to open our mouths to make a world happen and open our eyes to have a world appear.  So we surf the Internet for access to all knowledge immediately, we press a button for instant cash, and the countless pieces of paper we generate at home and office simultaneously yield countless pieces of paper in every sort of elsewhere and vice versa until all the time we have is consumed in dealing with all that stuff.   Such is the recipe for a wasted life.

Now it is possible to carry an office inside a brief-case: a laptop, a fax modem, a phone.  Convenient they call it: the roots of the word convenient are “with” and “come”. So now everything can come with you, into your car, into your bedroom, onto your wind-filled veranda, onto your holiday beach or into your forest hideaway.  Every moment can be fully productive and cost-effective.

But consider, for instance, those utterly “useless” and unproductive times spent simply reminiscing, laughing, old talking with family or good friends.  Or consider the quiet moments of refreshment and revelation when something of beauty is glimpsed or unexpected civility and grace is experienced, moments of delight absolutely without purpose.  Such moments represent the kind of time that is vanishing in our lives, a time completely free of usefulness, a time zone of wonder, a time when we leave aside the habits of competition, achievement and the taken-for-granted tasks of life and are startled into appreciating what also is valuable in life and the world.

Consider the joy of writing and receiving letters.  Delay is an essential ingredient in the pleasure of correspondence.  “Must do” turns into the relished achievement of “just done” and then you have the added pleasure of anticipating a reply.  “The sending of a letter constitutes a magical grasp upon the future”, Iris Murdoch wrote.  But that old magic has been completely destroyed by the fax and the e-mail.  Now letter-writing, and all too many pleasurably drawn-out exchanges between human beings, are carried out in a frenzy of instant messages instantly sent and almost simultaneously returned.  No space is left for valuable periods of meditation and review when those second and third thoughts come which are often best.

I cannot, of course, really tell but surely it is this quality of waiting awhile with a purpose that can make pregnancy for many women such a uniquely redemptive experience, a time in their lives when they are released from the awful tyranny of do-it-now.  Then simply to be – to eat, breathe, sleep, wait – is to do something very important.  We have to remember as often as we can to wait awhile and let the world and its wonders happen to us.

There is a poem by James Wright,  “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”, which I like to read when life presses too hard on one’s precious time.  I move it forward between the leaves of my diary so that I am reminded regularly what is, and what is not, important in life.

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

This poem itself confirms the irony of its last line.  It is not this experience of a world where nothing is lost, where tranquil beauty is contained in each passing moment, where dung blazes up like gold, it is not such an experience which is a waste of life.  It is rather that in such an experience one realizes that a lifetime only of anxious, unrelieved effort is utterly foolish, a waste in truth.

The novelist Kurt Vonnegut spoke once in an interview about technology and himself.  He worked at home and could, he said, if he wanted, have a computer by his bed and never have to leave it.  But instead he used an old typewriter and afterwards marks up the pages with a pencil and goes down to the local post office to mail the pages to a good typist he knows.  And in the line at the post office and later in the line at the corner store where he buys pencils and newspapers and sweets he gets to talk to any number of people – a birdwatcher who is desperately eager to get back to tracking blue-birds in the woods, a girl he falls half in love with, an off-duty cop full of stories – and he lazes around noticing the way shadows fall and the intricate lace of an old woman’s shawl.  And then he walks home, enjoying time slowed down, his past and future beautifully interrupted by the only space that matters.

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  • Peggy  On 12/13/2022 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks for your opportune reminder in a well written article. Happy holidays to you and yours.

  • Brother Man  On 12/13/2022 at 1:53 pm

    No one (except a few) will remember you after your time is up.

    Enjoy a cup of coffee, a walk in the park, a cold one before dinner. Watch the sparrows, ravens and magpies fly above from tree to ground or from tree to tree, the flows of rivers, the waves rolling in and crashing on a sandy beach as they have done since the beginning.

    Be kind to those around you and spend your time however you see fit and don’t stress over time wasted. The waste of time is all relative. Some may consider how you spend your time as wasted.

    But you may consider it as time we’ll spent.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 12/13/2022 at 9:55 pm

    Ian, I am glad to see you are still around – Keep up the inspiring work.

  • Ken Puddicombe  On 12/14/2022 at 4:48 pm

    Terrific read. Can’t help wondering if the rush to accomplish has overtaken Guyana with oil revenues flowing in abundance or if there is still hope of an idyllic existence in my native land!

  • wally  On 12/14/2022 at 5:29 pm

    My daughter is married to Irish Canadian,he is a kinda laid back, but now he is deep into Guyanese culture (maybe forced) My daughter had asked me if there was a famous Irish Guyanese as she wanted a name for her expected son, her husband did not like his parents choices. I knew of none at that moment,but after I remembered Ian McDonald, whom I thought might be Irish, so I suggested IAN and mentioned famous athlete,author.They loved it, last night they celebrated his birthday, I heard her repeating the story, of his name. Irish or not Thanks IAN..

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