I’ve noticed recently that I tend to lose things when I move too fast. I’m also learning that slowing down actually helps me save time in the long run. This, of course, is obvious to many of you, I know. To those of you who are organized and much better than I am at gauging, scheduling, and managing time. Those who pace yourselves well…like having an internal metronome set to a steady and sustained tempo. Adagio, perhaps. Or andante.

Life is a composition of many different tempos…from allegro and accelerando to prestissimo. And I’ve always marveled at people who never seem rushed or frantic, even when the situation calls for decisively accelerated action. I think the term I’m looking for is prestissimo grazioso. Really fast. Really graceful. {Really impressive!}

I remember, as a young piano student, feeling so “accomplished” when I first began tackling more difficult pieces, especially with quicker tempos. I would practice all week to impress my teacher with my speed and dexterity, only to be told during the lesson that I was rushing. Over and over he would say it, but I somehow couldn’t hear the difference between “really fast” and rushed. I was so focused on hitting the right keys prestissimo that I completely lost my feel for the music itself.

That’s when Mr. Bradbury would lean over my shoulder, point to the phrase I was to play again, then clap the tempo for me. I’ll never forget it. The smoky smell. The gravelly voice. The cigarette dangling from his lips as he counted out of the side of his mouth. And the dreaded metronome I knew he would assign for the following week of practice at home.

Funny how things come back to us so clearly…and suddenly make perfect sense. The difference between fast and rushing is clear to me now. It has to do with cadence and an authentic feel for the rhythms of music…and life. It has to do with grace.

In music, cadence pertains to the harmonic completion of a sequence as it moves toward a point of rest. It also describes the flow and inflection of a person’s voice, the meter of recurrent sounds of nature, and rhythmic patterns of motion. Rushing, on the other hand, is what happens in life when we skip over the moment because we don’t trust it. This, according to “the voice guy,” an acting coach who sees it as a reaction to fear. Makes sense to me. The quicker we can get past something we’re afraid of the better, right? Just rush right past whatever we find terrifying, and stay really, really busy keeping things safe.

In the meantime, however, we miss our chance to experience the substance of the moment and the people in the moment with us. We’re so busy creating “snappy dialogue” that drives the conversation around anything uncomfortable that we fail to pick up on the cues that create the cadence of true connection.

Rushing seals us off from each other. Keeps us from seeing what’s right in front of us. Catapults us past the present moment in our attempt to protect ourselves from the next terrifying thing that might surface if we slow the tempo, even for a minute. Of course, rushing can be a good thing when it helps propel us through difficult tasks, but it’s certainly no way to live all the time.

Now that I think back, I’m pretty sure I rushed the tempo in piano mainly to get past the hard parts without messing up. No wonder I couldn’t hear it myself. I was too stressed. I didn’t trust the moment…or myself. No wonder Mr. Bradbury could hear it…like fingernails on a chalkboard, I’m sure. His ear was trained to hear the heart of the music, not a series of notes robbed of passion by the scrambling fingers of a halfhearted student.

I was ready to move on. Five years was it for me. Piano was getting harder, more demanding. I wanted to play basketball…of all things. A convenient new “passion” that got me out of something I didn’t want to do…that lasted all of one season. Most of it on the bench. I may have been fast and graceful, but I was also only 5 ft. 3 in. and sorely lacking in ball-handling dexterity. {What was I thinking?}

To this day, I regret rushing that decision. To this day, I have to deliberately slow myself down when I notice a crescendo of internal frenzy fueled by something I’m afraid of. Now I know fear is always in the frenzy. Now I have a better understanding of the little girl who felt frantic all the time, darting here and there trying to outrun something that haunted her wherever she went. And as fast as she was, she couldn’t outrun it. It lived inside like a metronome set too fast. A tempo impossible to sustain, but the only one she knew, so she just kept rushing as fast as she could to avoid whatever felt too hard or scary…all the way into adulthood.

Now I know what that precious child needed…and what I still need today. A gentle voice, full of grace, to slow the frantic tendencies of my soul and reset the rhythms of my heart, mind, and body. Adagio, perhaps. Or andantino. Sometimes prestissimo, of course, but always, always grazioso. 

julie-signature