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In Praise of Delay: Come Entanglements, Pickles, and Predicaments!

A Personal Perspective: I live my life like a mad dash. I'm not the only one.

Key points

  • We tend to inexplicably rush through our lives.
  • We wish we believed that life was about the journey, but we don't really.
  • Not only is it not about getting to the destination, it's actually good for the destination to be far away.
  • "May your journey be long" is a wonderful blessing.

I began downloading the Dailypoem app while speed-walking around my neighborhood, pushing to reach the daily ten thousand steps required of me by the makers of Fitbit. As I sped up to almost a sprint, I clicked Dailypoem’s fountain pen icon. “Downloading,” it said, “downloading downloading downloading,” but then nothing happened.

I figured the best plan of attack was to start stabbing the teeny fountain pen icon on the screen with my finger over and over impatiently until something changed. But despite my commitment to the method, nothing happened. I didn’t give up though. I was going to get my poem of the day and nothing was going to stop me. I sent an irritable email to customer service as I sped in my almost- sprint asking, “Why won’t my poem download?” I had paid for my poem of the day. And I wanted my poem of the day. Now.

Ten minutes later, which seemed an outrageously long response time, I received the reply, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience. We were experiencing some technical difficulties at Dailypoem. Please try downloading again.”

I did and I got my poem.

As you set out for Ithaka, hope your journey is a long one

…Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way

When I saw the quote appear on my screen, I froze beneath a jacaranda tree in the middle of the sidewalk. My hand shot to my heart. My eyes sparked and I blinked to keep the tears in place.

The quote is from my old friend Taylor’s favorite poem Ithaka by CP Cavafy. It’s also the poem Taylor asked me to read at his funeral.

Everybody talks about life being about the journey and not the destination, but I’m pretty convinced virtually no one really believes it. Certainly not me, and I’ve piped the journey-destination line far more than the average lady.

We Wish We Believed Life Was About the Journey

We want to believe it. We wish we believed it. But who does? Like for real. Few. I think few. "Lovers poets madmen maybe." My fallen friend Taylor. Possibly Konstantin Cavafy, who I think is saying more in this poem than the journey destination bit. It’s more radical than that. The poem I believe is actually a wish for a delayed journey. Konstantin is wishing problems on his reader. Roadblocks. He is saying “May your road be loaded with setbacks and obstacles and humiliations, failures, flops and follies, defeats and downfalls and dark nights of the soul, the regrouping and redoubling of efforts. Again and again.”

Because you don’t want to get to your dream, your Ithaka, too fast. You want what you are seeking to always be just around the bend. Like a Japanese garden that points to places you will never arrive. Because What’s in Ithaka? Retirement? Laurel-resting? Sun-soaked languishing?

The cool stuff is all the battles, the problems, the foes to rise against, the fantastical beings, Poseidon, the cyclops, and the Laistrygonians that you’ll meet along the way. And you don’t want to meet them all at once. That’s like eating all your popcorn and jujubes in the first five minutes of the movie.

We Rush Through Life as if There Were Somewhere to Get

We don’t want a symphony rushed to its final concluding chord, sped up to the moment when all the competing melodies and modulated harmonies, at last, find their resolution. It’s not a mad dash to eliminate discord. But I often live my life as if it is.

I’ll notice when I’m eating, especially something delicious, that I will tear through it. Last week, when a delectable dish of spaghetti Bolognese was put in front of me, I attacked it like I was defending my title in a pie-eating contest.

“Why am I doing this?” I thought. “Why am I so anxious to get to the end of the meal? To get to that great bloated feeling?

Circling around my typical neighborhood path I ease my gait to a sort of “meander” speed and vow to embrace delay, to not hope for an easy journey, to not just accept delay, but to welcome it.

So. Bring it on! I say to myself. Come problems! Come entanglements, pickles, and predicaments! Come mixed up muddles and snags! Come all difficulties, great and small, help me tarry along my way.

Ah, I sigh, noticing how the sky is that particular blend of blue and purple I believe is called periwinkle. The breeze chills the light sweat on the back of my neck and I let my gaze soften, misting all the hard boundaries before me. Then, I reflexively check my Fitbit. Only 2,832 steps to go. Ah, I better get moving. I’m almost there.

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