A Welcome New Year’s Resolution:  Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a concert called “Forever Simon and Garfunkel—A Tribute,” featuring a pair of award-winning singer-songwriters, Sean Altman and Jack Skuller. The concert, a cultural program sponsored by a nearby synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, was an unexpected gift of the holiday season: two hours of nostalgic enjoyment—and pure joy.

First, there were the songs themselves, a collection of many of the biggest hits of the legendary duo: “Sounds of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” “Homeward Bound,” “I Am a Rock,” “Feeling Groovy,” “Me & Julio,” “Kodachrome,” “Old Friends” and “Homeward Bound.”  The songs transported me and the rest of the audience (yes, we were mostly older folks) back to our formative youth, evoking memories in ways that only music can.

Then, there were the performers. Altman, who assumes the musical role of Art Garfunkel in their performances, is 62 years old. He’s a founder and former lead singer of the a capella musical group, Rockapella.  Skuller, as expected, takes the role of Paul Simon. He’s shorter and much younger—27—but already a recognized talent, the winner of the Songwriter Hall of Fame’s Buddy Holly Prize. Despite their significant age difference, they blended together with beautiful, precise harmony, and took turns engaging the audience, leading us in high-energy verses, telling backstories of various songs and entertaining with bits of humor and good-natured banter about each other.

(To watch a YouTube clip from one of their performances a few months ago click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLHBAS9XC-E&ab_channel=LiveOnStageInc.)

When I left the concert, I was in a wonderful mood, despite a gloomy rain, marveling that performers at such different ages could blend their voices and personalities so seamlessly—indeed, they seemed more comfortable and genuinely appreciative of each other than Simon and Garfunkel were during their somewhat tumultuous tenure together. On my way home I found myself humming the first few lines the “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)”:

Slow down, you move too fast
 You got to make the morning last
 Just kicking down the cobblestones
 Looking for fun and feeling groovy

The song’s melody is upbeat and catchy, which probably explains why it was popular in the ‘60s and still resonates with audiences today—even though few of us will admit to actually using the word “groovy.” I found out recently that Paul Simon reportedly hated this song. I’m not sure why. At a concert at Tufts University in 1966 he told the audience that he wrote it when he was coming home from Manhattan at about 6 o’clock one morning over the 59th  Street Bridge (officially the Queensboro Bridge) “and it was such a groovy day really, a good one, and it was one of those times when you know you won’t be tired for about an hour, a sort of good hanging time, so I started to write a song that became the 59th Street Bridge Song.”

Maybe Simon felt, looking back, that the song was naively simple, lacking the more profound meaning or richer, complex melodies of his later work. While I do appreciate the thought-provoking nature of Simon and Garfunkel’s oeuvre (and Simon’s solo works), I also know why the song still speaks to me today, as we begin a New Year:

Life IS moving too fast, and I want to slow down. It’s not just me; our whole society seems seduced by speed, moving too fast, and it’s time to shift into a lower, more manageable gear. That’s the message of “Feeling Groovy.” Hey, take it slow, be present. Pause and enjoy the people, places, and everyday things that surround us. Appreciate life, one step at a time. Make the morning last.

Not that it’s easy. We promote speed in virtually every aspect of modern society. We laud speed in most business tasks, tests and competitions of all kinds; we strive for faster and faster performance in our technology; and we absolutely love power and speed in our cars and trucks.

For me, the need for speed is manifested on the roads, starting early each morning when I walk our dog. Cars come barreling down my residential street at 50 miles an hour, as people try to cut through the neighborhood to avoid traffic in town. On major roads, people slalom in and out of lanes, fail to yield the right of way, and drive at reckless speeds, regardless of hazardous weather conditions. (I believe the auto industry’s constant images of cars, SUVs and trucks charging across desolate rocky terrains or kicking up dust in the desert contribute to peoples’ heavy-footed driving behavior but…that’s another story.)

 Speeding fatalities reached a 14-year high in 2021, accounting for nearly a third of all traffic deaths, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. In particular, fatal crashes of seniors like me, drivers 65 and older, reached the highest point since 2000—8,208 fatalities nationwide.

That’s not really surprising, given the nation’s growing elderly population. Older drivers may exhibit some diminished driving skills that contribute to accidents, but they also take fewer risks than younger drivers.  And they’re not speeders.

Indeed, there are many benefits to going slow off the highway, as well as on it. I’ve found that slowing down in the face of difficult times often helps me make better, more sustainable decisions. You may go slower, but you go farther. Resisting our culture’s obsession with speed can build valuable patience and resilience, deepening our capacity for acceptance and gratitude for the small, but significant increments of progress in our lives.

There are also periods where we’re meant to go slow. Like when we’re faced with major transitions, or recovering from serious injuries or illnesses, trauma or loss. That’s when it’s essential to be reflective, contemplative and considered. It’s good to be slow when we’re negotiating uncertain curves in the road. The desire for speed, a quicker, expedient fix often leads to poor outcomes.

Granted, speed has never been a high priority for me, except when I was competing in sports. My wife teasingly refers to the two of us as the “tortoise and the hare.” (Guess who’s the tortoise?) I was always the last one to finish an exam, taking every last minute. As a child, I would always linger on the playground with my straggler friends or stay in the woods in the waning afternoon sun, soaking up the solitude of nature.

As we age, I know that the image of the elderly is that we become increasingly slow. Yes, we’re not as physically robust at 75 as we were at 25. But slow is not synonymous with old. We can be intentional about going slow, employing the wisdom of experience that has helped us avoid the speed traps of the world.

So as the New Year starts, slow down. Like most of us, you’re probably moving too fast. Make every morning last.  Life is groovy—even if we don’t admit to ever saying it.

 

               —Ron Roel

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