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Highway speed hides passage of time E-mail
Saturday, 05 April 2014 10:10

By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman

My brother in India telephoned last week, and we talked for two hours on the crackly land-line, occasional echoes looping the conversation. It doesn’t seem possible that the good part of a year could have passed, yet he’s booking tickets for their annual trip back to the States.

Our neighbor up the street was offered a transfer to Denver. The young family put their house on the market and got a cash offer the very next day. I received an email with all the details, which explained to me why different vehicles were already in the driveway.

It’s National Poetry Month, and this year I’ve tackled an ambitious “Poem a Day” project with far-flung friends. Though poetry is never written in stone, we aim to produce one new piece of writing every day, posting the results online for inspiration, delight and critiquing. I’m already on Poem 6, though I could swear I decided just yesterday to give the project a try.

Time, it seems to me, moves faster these days. Maybe it’s the technology that hurtles us along. When my brother first moved to India, we mailed letters and hoped they would not be stolen before delivery. Then, the first email program arrived — Eudora, it was called — and my toddlers would cock their heads at the whiny beep of the dial-up connection. The prospect of hearing back within 24 hours seemed astonishing.

There’s nothing newfangled about cash, I guess, but the speed with which our neighbors relocated was military-rapid. Perhaps it’s easier for people to embrace change in an age of instant results. Students at school often know the score of a test moments after they complete it. People submitting payments on line get confirmation numbers within moments. My computer, long liberated from the impediments of a dial-up Internet connection, dings gently when a new message arrives — perhaps a poem posted by a fellow writer, maybe a reminder of a doctor’s appointment.

These conveniences smooth the flow of daily life so that I rarely have the sensation of bouncing through white-water rapids. In fact, all of us race along much faster than we realize. The knowledge reminds me of the fascinated discomfort I felt as a child, when I’d doze off in the back seat of the car during a highway drive. When I woke, I couldn’t sense the car’s speed. If a semi-truck passed us, or we saw a train needle by, I’d experience a moment of disoriented panic. Were we moving at all? Were we hurtling out of control?

It was only when something stopped that I regained a sense of security. Bless the stop lights, the crossing signals, the orange construction signs.

Bless the afternoon tea my mother would brew in mugs when we returned to our house. Every day, around 4 p.m., we’d stop, sit around the table with a snack and something to read. My father might have a magazine or a journal that had arrived in the day’s mail. Paper, I’m realizing, has the same power as a stop sign. Homework or library books came to tea as well. Everything stilled.

This week, as I skipped tea and rushed ahead to the next appointment, daffodils served as my traffic markers. Though spring played a coy game through the month of March, time continued to pass in its invisible fashion, a swift current beneath the cold-looking placid waters of a stubborn winter. Shrove Tuesday arrived sunny, but snow threatened at least once, spring break passed without rain, and I’ve yet to see a bursting-forth of flowering trees. Instead, we’ve had blowing dust and frosty nights.

Whether spring is here or not, the daffodils keep to the schedule. The scattered bunch of them near my doorstep peeled open this week, unapologetically sunny on their slim stems. Hello spring.

Up the block, my former neighbor’s house will soon bloom in profusion; she gardened with diligent attention to detail, designing a flower bed in which color after color unfolds. Her small daughters, always on the alert for a sighting of our family’s dogs, our teenagers and our picture books, will seem shockingly tall the next time they return to Liberal to visit grandparents. My nephews and niece, too, will fly across oceans to see their Kansas family, who will marvel at the changes. Our teenaged children will swap slang, peruse one another’s cell phone apps and find the smiles they’ve exchanged since infancy. Some things don’t change.

Still, that old highway feeling will come back. Is time moving faster? Are we hurtling out of control? We don’t know, really, until we stop. This week, I’ll take time for tea.

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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