Time Tomb

July 9, 2008

Sitting at Panera Bread Company today, I got to perform some serious people-watching.

Self-absorbed businessmen, scantily clad beach-bound women, SUV-driving mothers herding their children, and the relaxed and wobbly older generation all crossed my path.

Most of them jockeyed for position in line or bristled while waiting for their food and drinks.

Oddly, I found that the group with the least time left on earth seemed to be the most relaxed. Enjoying the summer breeze at a patio table next to me was a 55-year-old woman and her mother, who looked to be about 83 or 84.

These two sipped their drinks and talked for the better part of an hour while the world bustled around them.

The businessmen were constanty looking at their watches and playing with their PDAs.

The beach set was determined not to miss a moment of skin-damaging sunlight…so they were in a rush.

The mothers and kids ping-ponged around as if they were trying to simulate the frantic starlings and sparrows stealing food from underneath the outdoor tables.

What do senior citizens know that the rest of the population has failed to acknowledge? Is the journey through life so futile that there’s no need to rush?

Or is each moment – and each chance to be IN that moment – so precious that it should be enjoyed fully?

As part of the people-watching experiment, I parked my scooter in a spot right across from Panera. In the span of 30 minutes, no fewer than 50 cars started to pull into the parking spot before realizing that it was occupied by my tiny two-wheeled vehicle.

Each driver then sped off in a rush to find another parking spot so they could maintain their frantic pace.

Sure, certain tasks need to be accomplished and people have lives to live. But the sheer existence of errands doesn’t demand that people race to get them done.

The mentality reminds me of commuters on the highway cutting each other off in a mad dash to get to the office.

Then, once ensconced in their cubes, these same people gripe about everything having to do with their trip to work and the fact that they’re trapped at a workstation for the next eight hours.

Perhaps they might take a lesson from the older folks at the next patio table and slow down.

A longer commute would keep them relaxed, ensure that they’d be at the desk for less time, and probably mean they’d have a better outlook overall.

Personally, the little break from Web traffic, email and phone calls has given me a chance to connect with society – if only from afar – and regain my perspective on the value of time.