March 2017

Line in the Sand: Why the rush?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

I don’t remember the first time I ever heard the phrase, “Where’s the fire?” but I remember laughing at what I thought, at the time, was an original joke. And it is, if you look beyond the cliché to the nut of its meaning: You’re running around so fast, clearly there must be some life-or-death reason for it.

Obviously, you’re not barreling down life’s highway for nothing, so, ha ha, ha, there must be a fire somewhere. It was, when first uttered, a clever way of pointing out someone else’s panicked rush. It’s been overused so often your mind barely registers that it’s a joke, much less an actual question.

The thing is, there is an answer to the question, “Where’s the fire.” The answer is “everywhere.” Particularly in my case, but I’m willing to bet you’re not that different.

As I write this, I have spent the better part of my morning custom-making pancakes for my three children and two additional children here for a sleepover. Once done there, I cleaned up, set plans for a Super Bowl party at our neighbor’s house, sent my sister-in-law a birthday text message and penciled in a LEGO summit with my son for later. I’ve stalled him by having clean-up dog prizes in the backyard.

And this has to be written now, in between this exact sequence of events, because I’m on deadline. And I didn’t get a chance to write this yesterday, because I was running solo with two of the children while my wife took a third and her friends roller skating. And the day before that, I spent most my day in Savannah for a story and had to rush back to be home when the kids returned from school so I could get a couple of other assignments out the door before getting dinner started. And the day before that, and the day before that and the day before that.

That’s just life. It’s busy. It’s loud. Even down here, where the supposed myth of the Slowcountry persists, despite a Bluffton traffic circle that has become a swirling Cuisinart of flashing metal and aggressive driving.

There are still things to do and places to be in the Slowcountry. It’s just that the things to do are generally more fun and the places to be are usually prettier. Everything I mentioned up there—making pancakes for my kids and their friends, writing for a living, playing with my son, cursing the New England Patriots in the company of friends—these are all the things I live for. These things that clutter my schedule—these are the things I love.

So, I rush to get them all done, and to see them all and do them all. Because there is a fire. It burns at a rate of 24 hours per day and consumes your life. You know how much day you have, so you look at what you can do and what you can’t do that day to bring yourself and the people around you some happiness. To maybe do some good.

And the things you can’t do that day, you’d better have a good reason why not. Because there’s nothing written anywhere that says you have tomorrow to do them. So, this is where this gets super depressing. Or inspiring. I guess it comes down to how you look at it.

That fire is burning your life down, one day at a time. You race to get ahead of it, but ultimately you don’t stay ahead of it forever. No one does.

There will come a day when you run out of time. There will come a day when that fire catches up to you and you will breathe your last. That’s no different for me or you or anyone. If an immortal like Abe Vigoda can die, surely the same thing could happen to any of us.

So, what can you do about it? The only thing any of us can do: run like hell.
And while you do, you fill every day with the things you love, a task that, yeah, requires you to get the lead out a little bit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

You’re just staying ahead of the fire and loving every minute of it.



A few weeks ago, I got pulled over for speeding—my third infraction in the last year. As I sat—in silent humiliation—on the side of Route 46 at 5:15 a.m., in front of my CrossFit gym, while all my fellow early morning workout buddies waltzed in unscathed, I thought to myself, “This is now a trend, and an embarrassing one. Why am I in such a hurry?”

Up until last spring, I had only had one speeding ticket on my record. Not bad for 26 years of driving. And then, last April, I got caught going a tad too fast, in a school zone, on my way to work. And a few months ago, on my way to teach at USCB, I exceeded the speed limit on a stretch of 170, where the speed limit changes three times (just sayin’).

And alas, on this morning, I had come from 278 (speed limit 55 and 45 mph respectively) to 46 (speed limit 45) to the circle (speed limit 25), and out of the circle (speed limit 40) past the library (speed limit 30). This column isn’t about speed limits, but I did want to go on record (in practice for my court date next week) about the inconsistencies in speed on our local roads. Over the course of my 3.4-mile morning commute to the gym, the speed limit changes six times.

Anyway, I came home from CrossFit with tears in my eyes, and mortified, I handed my third ticket to my significant other. My initial strategy of asking my fire captain better half to help make it go away didn’t pan out. Turns out maybe cops and firefighters really don’t like each other. I thought that was all shtick? (I jest.)

So, for the last three weeks, I have been driving agonizingly slow, with my navigation system on so I am always aware of the posted speed, and cruise control engaged to ensure that I maintain that speed. Suffice it to say, I have had a little extra time to think about why I am always rushing from one place to the next—even at 5 a.m.
Should I slow down; am I missing life? Or, should I keep up the excessive speed, because there’s only so much time? Is there a happy medium? Is it possible I am rushing to all the wrong things?

Last night, I came home from work, and was greeted by my black Lab, Blue, tail wagging in wait for our evening walk. I quickly changed clothes and put my sneakers on, sensing his impatience (family trait). We were out the door in a few minutes and had plenty of daylight left for the “long loop,” which is a nice two miles, with a pit stop at the Colleton Point Dock. What should have been a nice sunset walk was more me tugging Blue from his guilty pleasure of sniffing everything in sight. Even though it was after 5 p.m. on a Friday, my e-mails were still flowing in fast and furious, and I felt compelled to hurry through my walk so I could get home and answer them. And I did; I sat with my computer in my lap until after 8 p.m., working.

Last week, a high school classmate died at age 43. Just a few days prior, my 37-year-old cousin passed away. Both instances made me believe that maybe my rushing was right: Cram it all in; get it all done. Who knows if you’ll have a tomorrow?

If you asked anyone if they would rather go on vacation or go to work, I am certain the answer would be vacation. But how many of us actually do that? Seize the day? Have experiences? Make memories?

Why do we wait until we’re given the diagnosis—or we go through the divorce—to take the opportunity to do something great?

Maybe we should be making the time to find something great in every day.

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