I imagine every small town has their Josie, the woman (or man) who benevolently staffs the window at the post office, who recognizes everyone with unreserved kindness. Josie never hurries. Her speech syrupy, she savors each and every vowel.
Thirty-five years ago my economics teacher shocked the class by observing that “Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.” I’ve come to regard Josie as a less drastic reminder to take it easy. The line can be sixteen deep, but Josie takes her time. I start out at the end, fidgeting impatiently and eventually surrender to the lull in my needlessly hurried day. By the time I reach Josie, with her gentle, open face I’m tempted to ask her about her lilacs. She helps me put time into perspective.
The other day I was at Pittsboro Feed, paying for a bale of wheat straw and I overheard Christine telling another customer, “Josie’s got chickens, you can get them from her. Do you know Josie? She works the window at the post office. Stop in and she’ll get you fixed up.”
One of the things I dislike about living in the U.S. is how rushed I feel here. It’s part of our culture to be too busy for chit chat, too busy to wait in line. It’s not as bad down South here in the intimate ambiance of Pittsboro, but palpable nevertheless. “What if we lived in Boston?” Bob asks, reminding me to count my blessings.
Last night I read the following in Alexandra Fuller’s latest book, “Leaving Before the Rains Come.”
Time was the first thing I noticed about the United States. There seemed to be so little of it, and its unaccustomed short supply panicked me in the grocery checkout lines, during meals, and at traffic lights. I fumbled with my checkbook, I was unsure how to use credit card readers, I sat a beat too long at the intersection when red changed to green. I found time was jealously guarded too, as if to share any of it, or to take up someone else’s allocation, was the greatest crime. Ironically, it seemed obvious that most Americans had more time than almost any other humans in the history of the earth; they lived longer and more luxurious lives than had ever been lived before. And yet instead of slowing down to fill up all the space of their extra years, they sped up and up and up.
In Africa, we filled up all available time busily doing not much, and then we wasted the rest. We didn’t bother trying to hoard what could not be safeguarded, restrained, and stored.
Alexandra Fuller’s words fit my reality to a tee. Africa is full of Josies. The hardest thing about moving back to the States from Africa is trying to keep up with the snappier pace. Like Alexandra, I fumble in check out lines.
Those who buck the hurry up trend are regarded with annoyance and suppressed admiration. We’re jealous I think, of the people who refuse to scurry. This passage from “Horse Heaven” written by Jane Smiley 2000 has been stuck in my mind for years.
Once, when Rosalind Maybrick was still Rosie Wilson from Appleton, Wisconsin, on a school trip to New York City, she had seen a sight that changed her life….That was when things began to go wrong. The stroller caught something and began to fold. They boy began to cry. The driver opened the door and shouted angrily. “You gonna get off, lady? I got traffic here.”
The woman was magnificent. She adjusted her coat and her gloves before doing anything else. Then she righted the stroller. Then she picked up the boy. She adjusted her purse on her shoulder. Then she picked up the stroller. Then, very deliberately, holding up traffic all over Manhattan, she lowered herself and her things down the steps, pausing before stepping down onto the curb. As the bus pulled away, Rosie looked back and saw the women serenely strap the boy, who was no longer crying, into the stroller, then hand him a banana from her purse, then begin her promenade down the sidewalk. It was a riveting sight. She said to Mary, “Did you see that?”
“What?” replied Mary.
“God she was rude,” said Mary.
And from that Rosalind knew that Mary would live the rest of her life in the Midwest, which she did.
Rosalind saw that, if you had enough self-possession, you could reconnoiter, plan ahead, take your time. It went beyond being careful. Being careful was something you did if you were in a rush. If you were self-possessed, you never had to be in a rush.
On Friday, I popped in to check my mail. Josie stood at the counter without any customers. “Hey Josie, did you manage to get your hay up before it rained the other day?” I asked. “Yep” she said with a smile, “the rain kept missing us for awhile there.” A woman appeared with a package and I motioned for her to step up, “We’re just chatting,” I said. The woman smiled and said, “Josie’s great for that, isn’t she?”