Life in the Slow Lane

When I originally had the idea for this article, it was going to be all about how life in the slow lane can be a blessing in disguise. Chronic pain and illness forces you to slow down, to measure and conserve your strength—and by necessity, to focus on what is truly important. This also gives you the opportunity to appreciate things that most people rarely notice. I see the wonder of the world each and every time I walk out the door precisely because I don’t get to walk out the door very often anymore. So there you have it: life in the slow lane can be beautiful.

Then I got hit with an extreme pain flare and had two months flat on my back to rethink that. From the last week of July on, I was largely bedridden, unable to even tilt my head to read a book or look at a TV screen. I nearly went crazy, not just from sheer boredom but from panic about all the things that weren’t getting done while I languished in agonized tedium. Even now that I’m gradually getting better, it still feels like I’m stuck in the slow lane, watching life speed by from the passenger seat of a car that’s running on fumes.

But last weekend turned out to be something of a minor miracle: the wildfire smoke cleared out unexpectedly, and I felt good enough to go out for the first time in what seemed like forever. I spent the day at my favorite farm outside town picking flowers, buying peaches to turn into cobbler, and sampling the first apple cider of the year.

A second miracle followed the next day: managing the drive to visit my in-laws in Colville, where we sat in the backyard for hours longer than I would’ve thought possible, chatting and watching quail scurry through the raspberry bushes.

That was the last day of real summer heat, and now autumn is on its way. Most of the trees are still verdant and green, but here and there shades of brilliant gold and crimson dapple the leaves, and the intermittent breeze carries with it the first hint of cold nights and the scent of ripening apples.

In a back corner of the lawn, a heap of dying flowers lies amid grass turning sere, each fading bloom plucked from the vase as it began to wilt to give the bouquet a chance to retain its ephemeral beauty as long as possible. This is the time I love most in the Pacific Northwest: the gradual descent toward winter, the dying of the year, so filled with an elegance that is at once fierce and melancholy.

Here’s what I’ve come to understand about life in the slow lane: it is a little like autumn itself, terrible and beautiful at the same time. There are times when your engine stalls and you’re stuck for so long you think you’ll never manage to get going again, and there are times when God gives you small, unexpected miracles and perfect days that are all the more precious for their rarity.

It’s the last summer flowers gracefully fading away, the leaves turning more vibrant even as they drop from the trees, the cold rain and gray skies and the days growing shorter and darker. It’s bittersweet melancholy and fierce beauty twined inextricably together, the sorrow of a life more limited than it should be and the joy of a life lived as fully as possible.

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