There is an art and a science to slow living. This summer I’m trying to learn both.
In music you can measure it. The tempo called largo — Italian for slow and broad — clocks in at 40 to 60 beats per minute. (Allegro, by contrast, doubles that pace, while presto races up to 200.)
Largo as an art form comes after the practice, once you turn off the metronome and play what you love. For me, that meant playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with my grandpa, our horns and hearts in sync.
Now 88, my grandpa has tucked away his clarinet but kept the tempo, experiencing the gift of largo as a listener, enjoying the younger music makers in his midst.
Sometimes I am astonished by the pace of life: how quickly we can make online purchases, how readily we can outsource, how fully we can avoid human contact.
This summer I’m being shown another way, discovering little invitations to slow down. One came as a letter from a college friend, handwritten on narrow sheets of a grocery-list pad. It was simple and newsy: a new niece, a recent trip to San Francisco, yearnings for the home she sold last year. The length surprised me, pausing me on a Tuesday night and transporting me to another time and place, the little German town where she’d been raised, where she was visiting when she wrote.
“So much of the spiritual journey is simply remembering — good or bad — and seeing God’s hand in our lives,” she told me. “Writing about those memories helps me to process and learn.”
The same week a package from my cousin arrived: 10 black ballpoint pens, a sampler from JetPens.com. I was bowled over by the elegance of the gift, the luxury: to try out each one and determine a favorite, comparing the ink flow and tip size and grips.
I prefer the 0.7 mm Uni Jetstream Sport. Every letter-writing, blessing-counting person deserves a favorite pen. This is mine.
In our busy modern world, to sit down and write someone a letter is a powerful affirmation of that person’s dignity. The recipient is worth each pen stroke, each thought — written for her and her alone. My cousin’s gift was the instrument to embrace that bedrock Catholic social teaching.
There is no wrong way to write a letter. The act of connecting counts. I bought a few postcards from an antique store to remind me of that truth. One postcard, penned in 1911 and mailed to Bonfield, Ill., with a 1-cent stamp, consisted of nine words (and zero punctuation marks): “Hello Mary How are you I am fine Carrie.”
Mary, in turn, faithfully wrote dispatches from Bonfield, sending her sister an update on Oct. 27, 1914: “Boys are busy husking. It is pretty cold. Yesterday we had frost . . . Lena Stehr will be buried this afternoon.”
Mary’s also received postcards from her boyfriend, Howard. One contained a marriage proposal.
Letters become breadcrumbs that are gobbled up by historians, archivists and relatives hungry for secrets and signs of life. David McCullough, the acclaimed presidential biographer, praised the exercise of letter writing as “calisthenics for the brain.”
This summer I’m using my Uni Jetstream Sport to tell others — one at a time — about the mile markers and music makers in my life. I’m playing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s humble hymn “Our House.” I’m sitting on the porch. I’m taking my time. The days are stretching out before me with blue skies and bird song.
I’m trying to live in largo. I’m letting the word waltz in my mind, looking up its meaning. The Italian word, it turns out, derives from a Latin word, largus, meaning abundant. And this rings true: There is abundance to be found in slow living.