This I Believe: I Believe In Slowing Down

Feb 5, 2009

Essayist David Rockower and his kids.

On a rainy morning when I was ten, my neighbor Mr. Lovett invited me into his home for a woodworking project. Above his fireplace sat an ornate eagle carved by Mr. Lovett himself. Its wingspan was wider than I was tall. I remember wondering how long it took him to make that eagle.

Mr. Lovett guided my block of wood under the scroll saw until it morphed into the rough outline of a duck.

“There,” he said, “I’ve done the easy work. Now, grab the sandpaper.” I sanded, fast and furious. In no time, my duck felt as smooth as a river rock. Mr. Lovett inspected my work, “Well, it’s a good start, Davy.” A good start? I’d sanded that duck to perfection. I did not want to disappoint Mr. Lovett, so I continued to sand, paying closer attention to the curve of the duck’s neck, the nicks from the saw, and the pattern of the wood grain. If it took this long to make a duck, how many lifetimes did it take to make an eagle?

I am, by nature, restless. Idleness has always felt unproductive. But I remember how slowly Mr. Lovett’s hands moved over the wood. And when I took my duck home four days later, I could hardly believe I’d made it. Now, as I sit on the floor with my own children thinking about all the tasks I could be completing, I remember Mr. Lovett and the duck. I remember the slowness, the frustration, and the nearly perfect end result.

There’s a reason I remember my afternoon with Mr. Lovett so clearly when thousands of others have been lost from memory. I paid attention to the process. This is how I’m trying to live now. I pay attention on a new level. Life can be a blur, or we can bring it into focus. I want mine to be as clear as possible.

I believe in slowing down and enjoying the process of living. When I first became a parent, I thought that quality interaction meant reading a book or throwing together a cushion fort. But my kids needed more from me. They needed me to create the fort and join them for a tea party inside. They needed me to read the book three times instead of just once. So I did, and I do. When I sit on the floor and listen, build, laugh, read, and sing, I am paying attention. And when, later that evening, my son says, “Dad, that was really fun today,” or when my daughter slams me with an impromptu hug and says, “I love you, daddy,” I know I’m creating a masterpiece.   

David Rockower is from Boalsburg.