I grew up on a dead-end street in a densely populated suburban neighborhood. I spent a great deal of my childhood playing street hockey with my friends or riding my bike up and down that short block. It was ideal. Low traffic, only a few cars would pass per day on their way to the small apartment complex at the end of the street.
Now, I live near the back of a quiet, treeless, suburban subdivision far from the city. There are only seven houses beyond my own before the street turns into swamp, a remnant of the plans for the new phase of building that was halted by the crash of ’08. This would seem to be the perfect place for my kids to play all day, free of worries, the same way I did.
Yet, it’s busy, very busy. Just seven houses create enough traffic that my kids can hardly play in the street uninterrupted. There is constantly someone coming and going on all days and at all hours. Old Chevy Cavaliers with tinted windows rumble past with vibrating bass from cheap speakers.
Coming and going, coming and going. It’s a constant hum of tires on hot asphalt interrupted by the joyous sound of children playing.
Sure there is work, food, and social events. Take a kid to baseball practice, run to the hardware store, go to church.
But then there’s the run to the convenience store to buy cigarettes, beer, or soda. The fear of missing out on the latest film at the theater or the grand opening of Wal-Mart.
Or even more trivial things like the desire to “take a drive” out of boredom.
Why do we now feel the need to be busy all of the time. The stillness of a quiet Saturday morning seems too much for most to bear. By ten in the morning the sprawling suburban shopping complexes are crawling with shoppers. The machine mustn’t lose its fuel. Like gas into a car the masses stream into Target and Ulta, getting small hits of dopamine as they make purchases on credit cards they cannot afford to repay.
They get back into their leased vehicles, they will never know the experience of truly owning something, none of it really belongs to them.
Yet they carry on. So long as they are busy moving about, or being entertained, there isn’t time to face the realities of their waistline or their checking account. They numb the itch with another hit of momentary pleasure.
Meanwhile, my children play, often alone. The other kids in the neighborhood are gone with their parents, running errands.
I read a book in the shade while waiting for the coals to burn hot, as the driveways nearby sit empty, the families that worked so hard all week to pay for their beautiful homes have now left them to have lunch at a chain restaurant while watching big screen televisions.
They return home only to get busy mowing the grass and washing their rented cars. The cycle continues.
As Sunday evening rolls around they lament the speed with which the weekend has passed. They retreat to their bedrooms where they fall asleep to the glow of a television. Another five days ahead to pay for this lifestyle they hardly enjoy.
The cycle repeats for weeks, months, and years. Life passes by in a blur of mindless tasks and temporary pleasures that are all forgotten.
I took this last weekend to sit quiet and take a break from the busyness, only getting in the car a single time to drive my kids to the nearby nature trail. The rest was spent reading, grilling, and playing games.
The cycle of stress and motion had been temporarily broken, tension was relieved. As I slowed down to appreciate the peace it become painfully obvious just how fast the world is moving. The toil of “work and spend” is so ingrained that most don’t have a clue they are doing it.
The busyness doesn’t satify, it only distracts.