Learning to Linger

Nineteen years ago I was scurrying across the UCF campus after teaching a class for students with high apprehension of public speaking when I fell in step with one of my graduate professors. He had just heard one of my first lectures where, determined to drill every last bit of material I had prepared into the students, I plowed through the hour mercilessly, leaving their heads spinning. Instead of offering hope, I had successfully made them more apprehensive about their apprehension class. As we paced along, my professor suddenly stopped and said something to me I have never forgotten: "Denise, you need to stop and smell the roses." I was indignant. It was such a clichéd statement I was disappointed by its unoriginality. If a life lesson must be given, please be creative. But I realized that what really smarted was that this professor whom I admired greatly was chastising me, not just in regard to my neophyte teaching style, but for my style of life. I pushed back, "I do smell the roses!". He responded, "Yeah, at 100 miles per hour you do. You rip right through them, Denise. Just stop and smell them. Enjoy them a little." And then, having adequately left my head spinning, he was off.

The truth is he was more right than I cared to admit back then. I’ve struggled with finding balance between charging ahead and slowing down throughout my life. It’s not a secret that every personality has a light and dark side. Passionate enthusiasm for change and improvement–with an eye on the horizon of possibilities–means struggling to pause and linger in the present where things just are, steady, slow, in process. This struggle has been my nemesis and no doubt why I’m drawn to figuring out ways that help me and my fellow rip-through-the-roses journeyers remember to stop, take a breath, and linger longer than our bull-in-a-china-cabinet selves would prefer. We like the bottom line and accomplishment, getting to the point and taking action. This modus operandi works from the board room to soccer practice, laundry room to law practice. But if we’re paying attention I think we’ll find that where it hinders holds far more weight than where it rewards, and learning the art of lingering now is the only way to save and savor those precious rose-tipped moments life gives us.

As with most things, change happens one deliberate step and one different choice at a time, so here are a couple of ideas to take us further down the rose-lined path, starting right where we are. How about grabbing our kids after school and heading to Les Petits Pleasures to linger over an éclair before charging into homework? As we pause for pleasure and conversation, we’ll allow the rose of deeper connection to take root with each bite and smile. Perhaps we could walk instead of drive to Publix sometimes. It absolutely will take more time, but it will also absolutely give more opportunity for our eyes to linger on the details and beauty of the outdoors and to notice our neighbors so often by-passed, and we’ll experience the rose blush of appreciation for our community all over again. Maybe the discussion that feels so uncomfortable just needs a little lingering space for us to process the questions and not feel pushed, opening new buds of insight and deeper sharing with a little time. Pause, don’t rush through it. Linger longer than your comfort zone usually allows, sometimes in silence together, sometimes in space apart, but always supportive, willing and available.

In every place we choose to linger instead of rush we will be rewarded. From meditation to celebration, in solitude or togetherness, over coffee or under pressure, choosing to linger in the moment instead of running through it can deepen understanding of ourselves and others. So linger and look, remain open and listen. There are roses abloom in every corner of life, and more take root each time that you do.

Community Paper | Footprints of the Soul

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