Parisians and Demigods (part 1)

There have been a handful of times in the last 8 years when I’ve really felt at peace. Those times have been few, and scattered, but all happened either A) out in the country, and/or B) out of American culture, abroad, e.g. on the World Race.

In these times, I have felt the gradual quieting of my inner control freak. My latent rabid tyrant goes dormant. My emotions stabilize. I sleep better. I feel more grateful. I need less. I notice God more.

Alas, this kind of peace is ever elusive while I live in the vibrant, pulsating Austin TX. I’ve wondered many times whether the difficulty here is due to:

  • The size of the city of Austin
  • The lack of plentiful green space inside a city
  • The American urban ethos
  • The simple density of urban living, and its effects on the human condition
… but, I have no sure answer yet.

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So, last weekend I caught up with a friend, “Jen”, who has been living in a middle eastern country for the last year. She, like me, has been living in a lively city of nearly a million people, full of tourism and energy. For shorthand, we’ll call this place “Paris” … but again that’s a pseudonym. Stay with me.

The interesting bit was when she explained that Parisians hardly ever try to accomplish more than one thing in a day. In fact, when she and her teammates manage to do this, they have a little party to celebrate.

When I heard this, I tried to picture it, tried to imagine transposing this cadence on my own life. But I just gaped. I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t fit. One thing a day?? Surely this is untenable for city life.

Furthermore, as Jen told me, when a Parisian wants to hang out with you, then you’ll do best to clear your whole schedule. Catching up with a Parisian is an affair that frequently stretches to five or six hours.

To my mind, this is basically unacceptable information.

Perhaps this would make sense in a rural place, like in the bush of Africa. But we’re talking about “Paris”, which is a developed city, where people pay rent, commute to and from work, shop for groceries, send their children to school, and furnish their homes with manufactured goods. They pay taxes, they work full time, they keep in touch with their families, they’re involved in churches or mosques, and they do (I suppose) most of the things that you and I do.

But they do it much, much slower.

Lines at their bank require two or three hours. Public transit is sometimes full to capacity, or late. Lots of people walk or ride bikes instead of driving. Parisians are not punctual, and so appointments are delayed. And they simply wait. They wait it all out.

And when Parisians hang out, there’s a lot more pause, a lot more dead silence. You might find pockets in the conversation where both participants just look around, or whatever, for several minutes at a time, with no dialogue. And Parisians seem undeterred by these lapses. They simply wait, and then resume conversation when somebody decides to speak again. And they do this for up to six hours at a time.

And this is a modern, developed city.

Are you getting why this was challenging for me?

##

For some contrast, I shall consider my life, our lives.

Nearly every day, I feel the tug in the back of my mind that says “Okay I’m done here, let’s get on with something else.” At that moment, I am ready to leave the group, or end the conversation, get on to my next thing; go be alone, go tinker with my latest project, plan a trip, browse craigslist, visit my fiancee, go play sports or videogames, get groceries, clean my car, entertain myself, or whatever. I have little social stamina, and it’s because I have too many planes in the air. I am spread too thin, and I hardly know anyone that doesn’t feel like that, at least some of the time. If not all the time.

I cannot handle spending five or six hours with someone. Why? For one, I have trouble being interested in most people for such a span, or even caring. There are not enough areas of the other’s life to hold my attention and fill up that many hours. And for two, it doesn’t take nearly that long before my mind is wandering into the next “important” thing for me to do. My thoughts will gravitate toward that next thing, my attention will wane, and my mind will be lost, in pursuit of the newer project on my to-do list, which endlessly beckons my attention.

And therein may be our problem.

This thought continued in Part 2, tomorrow.

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2 Comments

  1. In what little i understand about this idea, i think a portion at least of why we feel this way as Americans in large cities is that everything has a speed to it that humans are not made to sustain for long periods.

    Even now i’m thinking in the back of my mind of all the things that have to be done today, and their order and importance and i’m mapping out a whole route of what my life will look like until my eyes close and it starts again tomorrow.

    There is no rest.

    At times when i do manage or remember to build rest into the everyday, it is rare that my mind stops churning away at my To-Do list long enough for my heart to actually make use of the time i have set aside. Initially my heart thinks that the solution is to make more time to rest. Organize my life more. Be more efficient. But I’ve tried those things many times over and i can safely say they are lies to keep us busy instead of healthy.

    Maybe this is a place we can learn from Jesus well. Sometimes i forget that the point of examining the life of Jesus isn’t just to learn his character or form, but to see how He makes individual choices in places that are similar to the places we find ourselves in. Perhaps this is why the scripture says to meditate on the Word instead of read it. Or why Jesus leaves to go away and rest by himself so often. There is something about the timing of this one we call Savior that we miss.

    He continues to save us is from ourselves; not just from the people, choices, sin, or things in our lives, but from the way we live.

    “Who will i marry?”
    “What will i do with this time?”
    “When will this new thing happen?”
    “Where will i end up living and working?”
    “Why have you given me this calling and mission?”

    We have focused on the Who, What, When, Where, and Why for so long in our own lives that maybe we have missed the How entirely. Perhaps our next question should be an act of surrender – a sacrifice that speaks to God that we can not do this thing called Life in a healthy and good way without the intervention of Jesus.

    Perhaps this is what it means to be dependent. To recognize that a relationship with God isn’t a feel good thing that we do when we want, but that we realize that without Him stepping in daily as we invite Him that we won’t be really living in the way people are made to live.

    “How do you want me to live today God?”

    Reply

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