As someone who has lived in a few larger, faster-paced cities over the last two decades, and as much as I love Bristol, I have enough experience to say, this is not a place where being in a hurry pays off. In fact, when we moved back to Bristol, a friend who has also lived in larger, faster-paced cities, too, told me one of the biggest adjustments I’d have to make is learning to slow down. I thought he was talking about driving; Lord knows going 35 mph on much of Volunteer Parkway is an exercise in restraint.
My friend, however, wasn’t simply talking about driving, and something happened to me not long ago that taught me what he meant about the value of slowing down.
Like most people this time of year, I have more to do than time to do it. Recently, I was in a hurry to get from one place to the next — which included a stop at the grocery store. Due to my poor time management skills, I needed to get in and out of the store quickly. My buggy-driving skills could be used to train NASCAR drivers: I deftly sped and zipped my way through other shoppers like they were sitting still — which they were, by the way. I drafted behind an employee pushing a cart toward the back and took a turn down the cereal aisle, skillfully avoiding a dreaded delay created by two weary moms who stopped to commiserate as their children ran circles around them.
I managed to grab everything else we needed in just under 25 minutes. But I knew the ultimate challenge was just around the final turn: the checkout. On my approach, I surveyed the lines and found the shortest one, certain that it was the fastest, but was I wrong.
I pulled in behind another shopper; when one of the moms from the cereal aisle checked out ahead of me, I realized that the line I had chosen wasn’t moving quickly at all. I started to get a little frustrated until I looked down the line to see who was bagging groceries.
A young man with special needs was meticulously placing items into a bag. At first, I started to get out of line; I was in a hurry, after all. But something about the young man and the way he was working and treating people made me stay. He was conscientious, placing each item carefully into the bag. A few times, he looked over at the customer and smiled. Fortunately, I was smart enough to stay in his line.
There was something profoundly beautiful and redemptive in the work that this young man did. While I recognize there might be some sort of incentive for a store offering work to people with special needs, it is no small symbolic thing.
As I watched this young man bag my groceries, my friend’s admonition about learning to slow down returned to my mind, and I realized how important it is, especially this time of year. There are a lot of good things happening around us and a lot of good people trying to work. It is easy to get caught up in the rush of things and miss out. We’ve all witnessed people getting bent out of shape at stores and even in holiday traffic.
It took this young man longer to bag my groceries, but I wasn’t late getting where I needed to be. Even if I had been, it was well worth the time it took just to see the joy on his face.
This time of year, the tendency to race around from store to store and place to place will certainly be tough to resist. But maybe our collective need to race through our community should shift a little — especially when we realize there really isn’t much need to rush around. Sometimes, in order to see the good things that are going on around us, we simply have to slow down.
Mark Hutton is an award-winning writer, ordained minister and adjunct faculty member for the Philosophy and Religion Department at King University. He is a member of the Bristol Herald Courier’s Board of Contributors. Board members are regular Opinion page contributors, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of this newspaper staff and management.