As I sort through thousands of files of land surveyor field notes from the 1950’s and beyond, I see the same word over and over and over again: RUSH. It is on almost every single file. It is almost always written in red.
An agitated refrain, she (the unknown secretary) distrusted a single use of that word. Rush! Rush! Rush! – is her most common exhortation; all in red, all in exclamations, all underlined.
Sometimes “Urgent Rush!”, sometimes “extra rush!”, it is always rush.
During my first week, as I wore off jet-lag and learnt the laws of scanning in a windowless office, I found the secretary’s rushing amusing. I chuckled often. “Gracious me, m’am,” I’d think, “but if you’re always rushing than you never are.”
The walls of the office are bland slates of gray-blue. It is the colour of clouds that haven’t decided whether to rain or to go pouting home. The carpet echoes this indecisive colour, until the very air feels like a liquid grayish blue. Sometimes I think we’re in a century-old robin’s egg, whence some musty giant will one day hatch; sometimes it makes me think of a tomb.
I thought how nice it would be to splurge a bit of another colour somewhere. On a whimsical impulse, I decide to paint the word RUSH. I will paint it in bright colours, I decide. In a style that’s anything but rushing.
I take each letter and freestyle it. I am not a painter. Colours are still an enticing mystery.
As I push the bright, thick paint, blending primary colours, lingering over the word “RUSH” with a paintbrush, thoughts come.
I see that word elsewhere…. It is written in the red ink of tail-lights that stream past me on my daily walk to and from work; the cars peeling themselves constantly off the road, over the ramp, onto the highway. It’s a river of rushing. The morning’s mantra is: get to work, get to work, get to work. The evening echoes, get home, get home, get home. Everyone is rushing.
I revel in my pedestrian independence to stop in centre sidewalk and stare at geese winging their migratory “V”s until they pierce the blazing sunset of winter pinks and gold. They are going somewhere, as we all are. Do they call “rush” to each other?
Rush beats in the blood cursing through my generation of caffeine addicts, of incorrigible activists. Eyes never stop roving, fingers never pause in scrolling.
When will it be enough? When can we stop rushing?
I wonder if the field workers ever complained about having every single assignment marked RUSH. When “rush” is everyday language, how on earth do you move any faster? Rush! Rush! Rush! screams red ink, as if that secretary spoke Hebrew and knew that repeating it three times brings it to its fullest completion of meaning.
Mockingly I elongate and round out her favourite word, intentionally losing each letter in abstract randomness, in colourful playfulness.
I think I want to fill the planet of my “U” with writing. I start writing a portion from the Little Prince. I pen it with a metal nib and liquid ink, and each time metal scratches paper a window opens a bit further.
“Oh, no!” I cried. “No, no, no! I don’t believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don’t you see–I am very busy with matters of consequence!”
He stared at me, thunderstruck.
“Matters of consequence!”
He looked at me there, with my hammer in my hand, my fingers black with engine-grease, bending down over an object which seemed to him extremely ugly . . .
“You talk just like the grown-ups!”
….He was really very angry. He tossed his golden curls in the breeze.
“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man–he is a mushroom!”
The little prince was now white with rage.
“The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman’s sums? And if I know–I, myself–one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing–Oh! You think that is not important!”
His face turned from white to red as he continued:
“If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there . . .’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened . . . And you think that is not important!”
He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.
And I continue, with a later section of the story:
“Please–tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”
I move ink over the absorbent rough white paper absently. Matters of consequence! Did the secretary of red ink and rushing understand matters of consequence? Do I?
Men have no time anymore to understand things, said the fox. Because they do not see the importance of taming a thing.
“It is the time that you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” the fox tells the Little Prince.
I wonder if the gray-blue air of my gray-blue office will be the atmosphere that seeds of caring about matters of consequence will grow in, or if they will die there.
I wonder how I waste my time, and on whom. The answer comes with a sting: I waste my time on myself. I am preoccupied with myself, and I miss the chance of true friendship.
How does one replace RUSH with REST? How do you work from a place of rest? How does one resist the urge to rush through life? How do you weigh matters of consequence?
Maybe now that I’m back in this culture that is mine by birthright; where agendas rule and adrenaline rages and action reigns; maybe now I’ll discover more this groundedness in rest that is mine by birthright in Christ.
But for now, at least I have bright colour behind my desk.