For Once, I am in No Rush

My friend Quincy is tall, striking, multi-talented and emphatic. Trust me, you don’t want to argue with her.

“You need to write about this,” she said. Then she repeated herself, fixing her laser-beam eyes on me. “You need to do it,” she said.

“This” was a memorial service for Mary Margaret Farrabee — a lovely, accomplished, vibrant woman who had done so many good works in our community. She would be missed by everyone who knew her, from family and close friends to people like me who knew her more casually.

Her service was at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on the southern edge of Austin. Attendance at the service was so large that it spilled over from the auditorium into an adjacent gallery, where the audio of the service was broadcast. I was in the gallery, sitting next to an old friend from law school. Forty years ago, she’d been small and peppery, with short, reddish hair. Today, she’s more reserved and her hair has turned white. She’s also a grandmother.

Waiting for the service to begin, she and I whispered comments about people we’d gone to law school with — the liberal feminist who’d turned Republican, the liberal feminist who’d become more radical, the state judge being scrutinized under a court of inquiry for his role as prosecutor in the Michael Morton case. We elbowed each other, we gossiped, we laughed, until it was time for us to be quiet.

Later, after the service was over, most of us went outside into the courtyard, with its limestone paths and open skies. With the record drought ongoing, it wouldn’t be a good year for wildflowers here or anywhere else in the state. But it was peaceful and sunlit outside, in one of the prettiest places in the city. How long had it been since I had been here? I had no idea. But it must have been years.

The day after Mary Margaret had died, I’d had lunch with a raucous group of women I love to be with — Ellen and Bonnie and Anita. We’d talked about our friend and her death, but then we moved on to other topics. What did we want for our own lives? What was most important to us? What did we want to leave behind? What did it mean to be a “good person”?

Later, we realized our conversation had been inspired by Mary Margaret’s life; she was a woman who’d lived fully and well, who had touched so many lives, done so much good. What were we, her friends, going to do with the time we had left?

Friends’ deaths and their memorial services are like that: They remind us of a single person — but also of ourselves and our own impermanence. At Mary Margaret’s service, I talked to a friend who’d recently had a stent put in his heart. To former neighbors I hadn’t seen in months. To old acquaintances I hardly recognized.

We spend so much of our time bent over electronic devices, rushing somewhere, never staying long, Quincy and I agreed when we spoke. What was so important that we were always in a hurry to get somewhere else, that we never had time — like this — to stand around and talk with old friends? A year from now, five years from now, would we be able to recall what had been so pressing at the time?

The sun grew warmer and our shadows shortened. The faces around me had changed, as, I knew, my own face had altered. I knew, too, that when all of us spoke about time being short, the remark had taken on a different, starker meaning than it once had.

Right now, I just wanted to stay here for as long as I could, warming myself in the sun, breathing in the fresh country air, talking and laughing and remembering. What could be more important, at this time of day, than lingering as long as I could?

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about failing as a Tiger Mom



24 comments… add one
  • It’s a good question, Ruth. Where are we always off to in such a hurry? Why? It’s as though our busy lives can hold us captive.

  • Cindy Link

    Well said, Ruth!

  • So true. We need to take more time to stop and smell the roses. Why are we always rushing nowadays? What seems so important at the time usually cannot be remembered later.

  • Prioritizing. We are often misplace the priorities in our lives. It is something I am working on every day.

  • I am so tired of rushing that I am rushing off to Spain for a couple of months so I can get away from rushing. How long will it take there before I start to rush again?

    Stop and smell the roses, easy to talk about, but is a skill many of us have yet to develop, after running a break speed for so long. I do have a sense of time running out so it puts me a pause as to which way to go.

  • Joan Dentler Link

    Very pertinent, Ruth. Thank you.

  • perhaps we need a national “DO NOTHING” day. Reset our clocks. Corporations have been advocating “work/life balance” for years now, and yet it seems we just get busier.

    Someone’s death always reminds us of the time we have left. All of a sudden it is real: that could be us in that casket. Better reassess.

  • Yes, yes, yes. We have to remind ourselves to slow down and stop all the running around, otherwise we won’t have many enduring memories, will we?

  • Carla Pineda Link


  • Very poignant, Ruth and a good mantra for us all.

  • Thanks for this reminder. It is unfortunate that it takes events like this to make us remember the important things, but maybe that is a final gift we get from those we lose.

  • It’s true – everyone seems to be in such a hurry these days. Even on my walks, I tend to walk fast because there’s SO MUCH TO DO back home. Well, it isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there whenever I get there. Thanks for the reminder to slow down, Ruth.

  • Beautiful post, Ruth. I attended a wedding last weekend—and had a similar experience of thinking about the significance of my own marriage.

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Best, Irene

  • Beautiful. That is all.

  • I’m sick of rushing through everything and enjoying nothing. My only solution is to do “less,” so I have time for feeling / living more.

  • I like Tara’s idea for a national “Do Nothing” day. Perhaps all electronic devices could be jammed so that we’re not tempted to use them. Sometimes, when I see TVs everywhere–in the elevator, at the gas station, and people are walking around glued to their kindles, iPhones, etc. (myself included) I can’t help but think that Wall*E wasn’t so far-fetched.

  • I often think when I (and everyone around me) am feeling crazy busy and in a rush that we are all rushing towards the same thing. Human mortality remains constant at 100 percent. It is good to slow down. I feel sorry that your friend died.

  • merr Link

    Slowing down has rarely failed me.

  • I was so moved by your writing, Ruth. Life is short. We need to slow down and enjoy it.

  • Beautiful writing, as always, Ruth. I am guilty of filling up every second of my day. Why? I’m not sure. But I’m going to take your message as if it were meant solely for me and make time to slow down, visit with friends or simply do nothing.

  • Christine Link

    I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  • One of the many things chronic illness has made me appreciate is the beauty of small moments.

  • Beautiful post, Ruth. These events always make us think of the time these people had and what they did with it and gives us time to reflect on our own lives as well.

  • Agree with Christine – I needed to read this today as well. It so happens that I’d decided I was going to do … absolutely nothing … today. Just whatever popped into my head; nothing that I was “supposed” to do. It was harder than I thought! My mind kept drifting to my office, ugh. Then I happened upon this post of yours. You always write so eloquently; you nailed this one regarding time, our use of it, and our impermanence. Thanks for writing this!

Leave a Comment