Slow Down, We Move Too Fast

It sort of makes sense that in a country that invented instant coffee, instant mashed potatoes, drive-through fast food restaurants and the microwave, Nicole Richie would be released from jail last Thursday after serving 82 minutes of a four-day sentence for driving under the influence of drugs.

I’m not a particularly vengeful sort, but 82 minutes is not a jail term. A girl like Nicole probably spends more time getting her nails done than her jail done.

Criminals used to be sent to penitentiaries to pay penance by contemplating on the errors of their ways. Even if Nicole has a steel-trap mind, 82 minutes doesn’t provide much time for contemplation and the development of a sense of regret.

I understand that everything moves at a faster pace today. People are finished making love before they have had dinner together for the first time. They have second careers by the time they are 30, third wives by the time they are 40.

Even winemakers have figured out how to make excellent, complex wines without that bothersome 10 to 20 years of aging. Just crush the grape and ship the juice to market. They no longer need a cave to age their wine — a short ride on a UPS plane will do.
Things are moving so fast that just last month the nation was outraged at Paris Hilton’s short five-day jail sentence, while this month no one cares about Ms. Richie’s 82-minute sentence. Get with it. The times are changing, old man.

If 60 is the new 45 when it comes to ageing, I suspect 23 is the new 45 when it comes to being unhip. If in the 1960s we were enjoined not to believe anyone over 30, it can’t be long before people will have experienced too much of a fast-paced life by 20 to be trusted by the kids.

There is some cruel irony in the fact that as life expectancy gets longer and longer, Americans seem to be compelled to be in more and more of a hurry to get on with and get over with each piece of life — including their precious youth.

A few decades ago, when life expectancy was, say 70ish, a short jail term was 30 days and a short career was 30 years. Now, with life expectancy 80ish, a short jail term is less than an hour and a half, and a career is as short as you want.

Compacting is fine for some things, but I’m sorry, some things should not — and, in fact, cannot — be compacted. The point of a jail term is to punish — by denying the prisoner the free use of his or her time for a long enough period that there is such a sense of loss as to feel denied the continuity of a free existence and the permanent loss of a valuable part of one’s life. Even in a young life, 82 minutes simply doesn’t measure up.

Nor, on the positive side, can the full value of a loving human relationship such as marriage be compacted into some short time. Unlike a modern wine, a modern love match cannot be fully matured and appreciated in a hurry. While sharp and dramatic at first, the mellowing flavors and complexities are the finest and most noble — and can only be experienced over long time.

Between the punishment of jail and the reward of a loving marriage (both of which need time to have their full value) falls presidential campaign politics — which also moves faster than before, and also risks rushing a process that needs to take a certain amount of time.
Now, in this last week of summer before Labor Day rings the bell for school, work and the traditional beginning of the presidential campaign, I will not belabor the already too hot politics.

But as we all start thinking about who we want for the next president of the United States (a decision that may save or cost many of us our lives depending on whether we choose wisely or not), we should not let the candidates and the news media rush us to early decision.

Against the backdrop of rapidly changing events — particularly in Iraq, but also on Wall Street and around the world — if we let the campaigns run a little longer, we will have revealed to us which candidates are capable of responding honestly and intelligently to changing events, and which never had more than slogans.

The good Lord has given us the gift of time — and the capacity for patience to take full value of that time. Whether in crime and punishment, love and marriage or candidates and decisions, we should take that time.