I went to mow the lawn yesterday only to find that the very impressive rider-mower that came with the premises was unwilling to make a sound, never mind to cut grass. In the corner of the garage stands my well-used old manual push mower. You push, it cuts. At least, it cuts some of what it rolls over. So the old mower and I were pressed into service together.
Several differences were immediately evident regarding the use of one grass-cutting tool over another. First, it was much quieter. I see my neighbors wearing headsets as they twirl around their yards on their own rider-mowers. One would look preternaturally silly wearing headphones while pushing the old manual mower, unless of course one were listening to the best of Elton John as his final concert approaches, or fill-in-your-favorite-music. Secondly, it took more time. I completed half the lawn in about twice the time it would’ve taken to complete the whole of it on mower-back. Thirdly, it took more effort. As I am fond of saying, in terms of physical effort the rider-mower proves only that I retain sufficient balance to remain upright in a seat (even in motion!). If I live long enough the day will likely arrive when this is no longer true, but thank God at the present time it doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment. And finally, the quieter, slower, more taxing method of getting the job done invites, allows, and almost requires me to actually get to know the yard, to actually see the lawn, its makeup of a startling variety of local weeds in various shades of green which, when cut low, masquerade a lawn with admirable efficacy.
Why do I impose this reflection on the rest of the reading world?
For one reason. All four of the differences outlined between the newer, powered manner of reaching the goal and the older, self-propelled way seem to me to argue that the older and simpler is (at least sometimes) better. And perhaps not just when it comes to getting the yard to look nice.
Think about it.
Lately I have taken to setting the GPS to avoid toll roads and interstates. In doing so I have nothing against that marvel of national roadways that bear the name of President Eisenhower. There are times and circumstances – many of them – where what he and others wrought in the building of that system is just what is needed. But, if the trip is within the state, or from one New England state to another, to avoid the bigger and better reveals the same differences and allied benefits uncovered in my front yard. The voyage is quieter, slower, asks a livelier attentiveness of the driver, and allows the part of creation between the beginning and ending points to actually present itself in all its wonder, beauty, and uniqueness.
All these are benefits, both along the way and on arrival. Postmodern life wants you to hurry everywhere, and when you get here to hurry to accomplish what you came for. Pshaw on that. The quiet allows the inner dialogue in your brain to slow, to allow memories to be recalled by what is seen and heard along the way, and to link those memories to life here and now. The seeing and hearing along the way, paying attention to the kind of curve that doesn’t often come on a super-highway, gasping in awe at the brook swollen by recent rains by the side of the road and a few miles along noticing where it becomes a valued contributor to a river – these are gifts to the traveler, awake and aware.
Examples could be multiplied. Writing a letter with a pen, folding it, placing it in an envelope, greeting the postal service person and chatting as you purchase a stamp, addressing that envelope and placing it in the mailbox with a whispered prayer for the recipient: all this is a richer experience by far than pecking out an email in 2 minutes and sending it without another thought at minute 2.5. Walking, where and when possible, to complete a simple shopping errand places me in touch with the actual place I live in a way that hopping in car and driving there just cannot do. And walking without an errand, without a reason, without a cause, is even better. Enough of that at least brings to life the memory of childhood when you moved just because. And most of the time you couldn’t name the cause.
So. Though I’ve naught against rider-mowers, you can read here that at least some of them should be re-tooled as planters in the front yard, decorative reminders of some of what we would be better off letting go of between pandemics. Like the kind of rushing around that numbs the mind. And the busy-ness that puts the heart to sleep and threatens to allow me to forget the good of my neighbor. And the world’s noise that drowns out the tiny whisper of the voice of God, a voice that is not saying . . . ever . . . Hurry up, will you???
© John McGinty 7/25/2021