As we continue to learn what it means to create space for our souls to breathe, I often make it more difficult than it needs to be. The secret to finding peace in the midst of everyday chaos can be as simple as arriving early. I had the pleasure of spending time with Michelle DeRusha a few weeks ago and can tell you that to know her is to love her. I’m grateful her simple, grounding words today.
“If you’re on time you’re late.”
This is my dad’s mantra, repeated time and time again throughout my childhood. More than once my sister was left howling at the end of our driveway, shoes in hand, as my dad drove down the street, my mother in the passenger seat, insisting that he turn the car around and retrieve her. He always did, but we never knew if this was the time Jeanine would finally be left behind.
You’d think, given my history, that I would tend toward either relentless tardiness or PTSD-induced punctuality. But the truth is, I actually like to arrive early. I do it intentionally, purposefully, not just because my dad drilled it into me, but because it’s good for my body, mind and soul.
A fountain splashes behind a weathered brick wall. I can’t see it, but I hear the water, a steady burble mingling with the rustle of maple leaves and the clear, two-note call of a chickadee. Visible above the wall are peaked gables, black-shuttered windows, lace curtains, a wooden pergola covered in lush ivy. A secret garden, perhaps.
I park in this same spot nearly every day at nearly the exact same time – 15 minutes before the middle school bell rings. I ease my mini-van to the curb, click off the ignition, roll down the driver’s side window, slip off my shoes, tuck one foot under my leg, and wait.
I try to resist scrolling Instagram or checking email on my phone. I don’t always succeed, but when I do — when I listen to the fountain and the birds and the wind instead, when I gaze at the pollen sprinkled across the windshield like pixie dust, when I watch the tabby meow at the front door across the street – something subtle but lovely happens.
My jaw unclenches. My shoulders relax. My to-do list recedes into the background. My body and soul breathe.
In short, I retreat. I release my obsession with “getting it done,” my worship of efficiency and productivity. I let myself be, if only for a few moments. I surrender to my senses – the scent of apple blossoms wafting through my open window, the scarlet flash of a cardinal amid verdant foliage.
The school bell rings. I watch the sidewalk reflected in the passenger side mirror. My son is always one of the first out of the building and up the street, his shoulders stopped under the weight of his backpack. In the mirror, I see him turn the corner at the bottom of the hill.
As my son approaches the car, I read the faded type that runs along the bottom of the side mirror. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. The same, I think, can be said of our own selves, our lives, our loved ones, our place, our God. They are all closer than we think, closer than they sometimes appear.
Arriving early and sitting still helps me remember that this is true.
A Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. She is the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith.
She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband and their two boys.