I have lived a few decades at this writing, and during that time, the things I have witnessed are amazing. So much has happened so quickly, that at times it’s hard to keep up with it all. Thus, I am convinced that some things should not change. Those truths that anchor us to reality, and remind us about life as is should be, need to remain a constant beacon of light in a darkening night of endless change.
Let me give you some examples of the changes that have happened during my brief time on earth. The Beatles upended the fabric of music, men walked on the moon, lap-top and hand-held computers arrived. DNA was discovered and the genetic manipulation of every organism is now possible. We have had numerous wars, the internet was birthed, smart phones revolutionized communication and spacecrafts traveled to and traveled on other planets, while other crafts went to every planet of our solar system and beyond. Mega-typhoons slammed the earth, men began living in orbit above the earth, the fall of both the Berlin Wall and communism happened. Terrorism by demonic religious fanatics murdered thousands, and 70 million babies have been murdered in the US through abortion on demand. Meanwhile, riots and unrest have been spread because any person with a cell phone and an agenda, can now do a live broadcast any time, and any place they want.
With all this change, distress, growth and development, I am so glad that some things have remained the same, and they needed to. Why? Because people still have to know the basics. They need to know how to have honest, personal communication. They need to know how to express their feelings, and recognize and respect the feelings of others. They need to know how to make a good meal, and enjoy it with loved ones. They need to know how to show compassion for those around them, and how to help those who are genuinely in need. They need to know right from wrong and how to spot a liar or a con-man, or when it’s time to go the extra mile for someone, even when it hurts. These are the things that make us uniquely human, and they hold life together in many wonderful ways.
The problem is, we all feel so pressed, pressured and rushed that we have nearly lost the art of doing the basics. We are distracted by cell phones at play, at home, at work and on vacation. We are bombarded by endless advertisements which encourage us to buy more and go deeper into debt, which means we have to work more to pay for it. From childhood we are entertained by violent and sexually oriented video games, movies and tv programs. To make matters worse, over the last 15 years, televisions have found a place on the wall of every store and restaurant, livingroom, bedroom and classroom. Companies have now put them on gas pumps so we are forced to listen to their annoying, self-serving drivel even while gassing up to get away from them.
The art of conversation, and building meaningful relationships, is nearly dead. Anything other than a brief Tweet or a condensed lettered text, (LOL, OMG) is considered unnecessary. A hand written letter in beautiful penmanship…..what in the world is that? It would be time-consuming, take days to deliver, and growing numbers can no longer read hand-written script. Beyond that, it’s not free. You have to go to the post office, buy the stamp, put it on the envelope and put it in a mailbox. Who has time or money to waste on that? All I can say is, if I receive a computer generated, spell checked and instantaneously, electronically delivered email to my inbox, it better be a short. I mean, get to the point, or it goes into the massive pile of spam that automatically is deleted daily from my four email accounts.
How bad has it gotten? Well, I have observed couples, or at least I assume they are couples, stopping at my local diner. This is where I go to enjoy reality with my wife, or one of my friends. There we sit, typically engaged in focused, meaningful conversation , solving the worlds problems. So, into this place comes a younger “couple” and I brace myself for the show that is about to begin. First of all, they must pry themselves away from their phones, long enough to glance at the menu. This is confusing and unsettling, because the menu is printed on paper. It’s not back-lit, there is no scroll button, and there is no instant electronic points to apply, or code to be scanned. Just as they adjust to this reality check, the next shock comes. They discover the menu is two-sided and they uncomfortably hesitate as they flip the page over to read what’s on the back.
I watch in fascination as they look at each other wondering what to do next. There is no kiosk, no electronic voice telling them how to place an order, and no flashing, ever-changing menu rolling across the wall. There is no place to tap their phone, insert a credit card or beep for service. They look helpless and bewildered, and they are about to leave this alien environment as the waitress walks around the counter and comes to their small wooden booth. When she says, “what would you like to drink hon?”, a look of relief floods over their faces and they say, “we will have a double, low-fat latte made with almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon”. Then a desperate confusion sets back in when the waitress says, “We have hot tea, coffee, orange juice or water. What will it be?”
In all honesty, this floor show is well worth the price of my morning tea. The facial expressions, the confusion and misplaced curiosity that shows up as the waitress hand-writes their order on a green order pad, is priceless. However, that is not yet the best of the morning’s entertainment. No… that comes when it’s time to pay. As they near the end of their coffee, the waitress, who is the only one ever on duty, places their bill on the table and just walks away. It has been hand-written, the total has also been added by hand, and it has simply been left there without a word. What they don’t understand is they have to physically get up, take it to the old red mica-topped counter to pay.
After I watch them impatiently waiting another ten minutes or so, because no one has come back to their booth, I usually point at the counter to indicate that’s where they go next. So up they go, phone in hand, and the grand finale is about to begin. I watch their stunned faces as the price of each item is separately pressed into the ancient cash register, and the hand crank is pulled back to add everything up. With a final flourish of two pulls the bell rings, the total flashes up on hand-lettered metal cards in the glass window, the cash draw pops open. With a smile the waitress says, “that will be $3.00”. This is a pleasant surprise, because these two usually pay $5.50 a cup in some overpriced, cafeteria style coffee barista.
Then it happens, they look for a place to swipe, or tap, or insert, or scan, but it’s nowhere to be found. There is an aquward moment of question until the waitress says, “oh, we only take cash”, and then the fun begins. They frantically look at each other and begin to dig through pockets, wallets, purses, backpacks and shoulder bags. Eventually, they may pull together enough money, but at times I will chipped in an extra dollar or so, because they came up short. When that happens, just for the extra entertainment value, I let them sweat it out for a few minutes first. Finally, in true Adirondack hospitality, I come to the rescue and they thank me profusely. Once the cash is handed over, they leave the coffee shop, which has been the same for over 60 years, having had a new experience with the old, unchanged ways.
Yes, some things should never change, because they remind us of who we are, where we came from and what’s really important. They slow us down so we don’t get where we are going, too fast. Life can be rushed, it’s true, but we don’t have to be caught up in it 24/7, and miss the best that living has to offer. Find time every day to slow down, and decided for yourself what things you will hold fast. Is it a coffee shop that is frozen in time? Is it a friendship that holds conversation at a premium? Perhaps it’s a special weekend meal or a family tradition or a desert at holiday time. Whatever it is, keep it close, enjoy it to the fullest, and let it be like a rock in the river that the rush of time must move around.
All of life may have to change, but every one of us must keep a few things forever anchored in the rich fabric and heritage of the past. These things hold us to reality and give us a point of reference to go back to when life gets too busy. From these unchanging places of stability we gain rest in the moment, insight for the present day and clarity for the days to come. Without them, we are caught in the rush of life-to-fast, and are swept along in unending change that rules over way too much of the precious time we have.
Are you feeling the crush of speed living, and the rush of constant change? Have you been over-run by adds, programing, distraction selling and the push to buy more, do more and be more? Let me suggest that it’s time to find a small local diner, or a mom & pop coffee shop that is locked in time. These are wonderful places that have no TV’s on the wall or music in the back ground vying for your attention. They are gems from days gone by, that harken back to a time when phones hung on the wall at home, and conversations were savored over a cup of coffee and a fresh made doughnut.
When you find such a place, go there on a regular basis with a loved one, get a cup of coffee or tea, turn off your phone and just sit a while. Dunk a doughnut, eat a piece of pie and begin to enjoy the unhurried atmosphere of this unchanging place. It will do something within you that is desperately needed in this high pressure world. Here you will rediscover yourself, and the art of honest conversation. Here you will find words that are anchored in the past and bring clarity to the present. This is where your thoughts will finally begin to settle, and the push to live someone elses idea of life, will give way to the joy of living life the way you see it.
Now, if you will excuse me. My booth at Petes Coffee Shop is waiting!