Be Calm

This last week I purchased a new lawn chair. An iconic American classic – aluminum frame, woven nylon, made-in-the-USA lawn chair. Photographs from my family lore portray now-deceased loved ones lounging in identical chairs more than 50 years ago. The reason I bought the chair was not only to own another relic of American leisure (though that is very important to me), but because I just want to sit. In the fast paced world we live in, sometimes you just need to sit down. And that is exactly what I have decided to do.

This summer I have created a haven on my small stoop. I have music, glass-bottled refreshments, a reasonably quaint neighborhood, and most important, something to sit on. As I’ve taken the time after a hard day’s work to sit on my stoop and do…well…absolutely nothing, I’ve been surprised at the way people look at me as they walk, drive, or ride by my house. It’s not a look of amusement or envy, but one of almost worry or concern. For example, a group of young ladies moseyed by a few days ago while I was sitting listening to a James Taylor album and sipping a Dr. Pepper. You could practically feel the awkward tension they had amongst themselves. “What is that weird guy doing?” they seemed to be whispering. “Stalking? Waiting? Does he not have anything better to do?” The answer to all of those questions is a resounding no. I was just…sitting. I have realized that people need to do a lot more of that. People, as a whole, need to be calm. Allow me to share with you why.

Busyness, anymore, is considered a badge of honor to be highly respected. In my society, busyness implies greater purpose, engaged involvement, occupation, popularity, rigor, problems, and a million other things that humans can sympathize with or admire. Busyness is an excuse when responsibilities are shirked and, in my community, the biggest excuse to not accept an invitation – primarily in the realm of dating. It is now normal to assume that every person doing anything has a strict agenda or time frame, and it is considered rude or ignorant to think otherwise. Naturally we notice that everyone has somewhere to go and something important to do, and they need to get there fast. Perhaps even a common attitude in this day and age could be that people are busy from sun up to sun down so I had better be busy too so I don’t look like a loser. I’m just not buying that. Neither is Derek Sivers:

“Every time people contact me, they say, ‘Look, I know you must be incredibly busy…’ and I always think, ‘No, I’m not.’ Because I’m in control of my time. I’m on top of it. ‘Busy,’ to me, seems to imply ‘out of control.’ Like, ‘Oh my [gosh], I’m so busy, I don’t have time for any of this [stuff].’ To me, that sounds like a person who has no control over their life.”

Additionally, Tim Ferriss has said:

“Lack of time is lack of priorities. If I’m ‘busy,’ it is because I’ve made choices that put me in that position, so I’ve forbidden myself to reply to ‘How are you?’ with ‘Busy.’ I have no right to complain. Instead, if I’m too busy, it’s a cue to reexamine my systems and my rules.”

Echoing these outstandingly potent and slightly stinging comments, I can pretty well guarantee that people are not as occupied as they otherwise outwardly seem, and people behave like headless chickens for entirely inconsequential reasons. That is why, my friends, you need to be calm.

It also is no wonder that our neighborhoods and communities, the very nucleus of the American identity, have suffered because of our society’s obsession with the merits of busyness. Neighbors hardly talk anymore. Wouldn’t it be great to be greeted by your neighbor on a given afternoon right from their porch? Spontaneous visits are practically no longer a thing. Now you must text first in fear of bothering or interrupting someone. It used to be that you could open your neighbor’s gate when you smelled something cooking and be warmly invited with a cold beverage and a grilled frank with extra relish (and homemade relish at that!). Not to mention a good conversation about life or something else that is interesting – not just what time your sprinklers go on or if you can somehow keep your dog from barking when the garbage truck rolls by. Au contraire, houses are now equipped with camera doorbells so that the person inside whom you are attempting to visit can see who and what you are and then make the choice as to whether you are worth pausing their Netflix program for or not. And worst of all, those people are your friends. Are you seeing the problem with this picture? If people adopted (or remembered) that mentality of calmness, perhaps our neighborhoods might return to being just that – neighborly.

“The strong, calm man is always loved and revered. He is like a shade giving tree in a thirsty land, or a sheltering rock in a storm. Who does not love a tranquil heart, a sweet-tempered, balanced life? It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or what changes come to those possessing these blessings, for they are always sweet, serene, and calm. That exquisite poise of character which we call serenity is the last lesson of culture; it is the flowering of life, the fruitage of the soul. It is precious as wisdom, more to be desired than gold. How insignificant mere money seeking looks in comparison with a serene life – a life that dwells in the ocean of Truth, beneath the waves, beyond the reach of tempests, in the Eternal Calm!”

⁃ James Allen, As a Man Thinketh

This summer season, I think it would do us all some good to be calm. That is why I have decided to sit on my stoop in the fashion that I have designed. To acknowledge and understand that I am really not very busy, and that peace of mind and body can be achieved by something as simple as watching the afternoon pass along from my own front yard with some good tunes and a cold pop, well, has been positive. This is the quintessential American invitation, that of beckoning one and all to come and have a seat and enjoy the heat (after an honest day’s work of course). And this is my invitation to you: Be calm, sit down, quit the busyness, and enjoy yourself. You won’t regret it.

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