Rod Serling, in his Twilight Zone story “Walking Distance,” wrote about a New York MadMan by the name of Martin Sloan. Dissatisfied with the trappings of success, Sloan longed to go back through all the years of his life “to find the one in which he was eleven.” He didn’t want the five star restaurants or the Park Avenue penthouse; he wanted another ride on the neighborhood carousel, a chocolate soda with an extra scoop of ice cream, the caress of a summer night’s lazy breeze. He wanted life to slow down.
A few years later, this longing for simplicity manifested itself in several television programs that are now looked at as incomprehensible examples of entertainment kitsch. Green Acres was a sitcom about a wealthy New York attorney who insisted that he and his luxury-loving wife move to a remote hamlet by the name of Hooterville to become farmers. Another sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, was the story of Jed Clampett who accidentally became an oil millionaire and then moved his family to Beverly Hills. The Clampetts never understood the glitzy goings on around them; they remained blissfully impervious to the lure of “swimmin’ pools” and “movie stars.” And there was a third locale for TV viewers looking for a gentler pace: Petticoat Junction. This place was so naively primitive that its citizens thought nothing of three young women taking a bath in the water tower every week.
But we can’t afford to dismiss these shows as mere cultural oddities. The rate of change that took place in the Twentieth Century was greater than the combined progress of all centuries preceding it. A generation that had been born into a world in which technology consisted of the radio, the ice box, and the ringer washer found itself faced with The Bomb, The Pill, and The Computer.
And things aren’t exactly slowing down, are they? We are increasingly a busy society. Busyness has become so entrenched in our thinking, that if we aren’t busy, we feel the need to look busy. Kate Pickert, in her recent Time article entitled “The Art of Being Mindful” discusses what a challenge it is to power down from our iPhones, our Blackberrys, our desktops and laptops, our iPads. She warns that “There are no signs that the forces splitting our attention into ever smaller slices will abate. To the contrary, they’re getting stronger. (Now arriving: smart watches and eyeglasses that will constantly beam notifications onto the periphery of our vision.)”
Pickert is taking classes in mindfulness as a tool for coping with what she terms “the daily onslaught.” Mindfulness involves concentration exercises such as the one that has participants study a raisin in the palm of their hands. She contends that “The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn’t silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st Century.”
Each of us must construct our own response to the “daily onslaught.” Martin Sloan learned that he couldn’t go backward, that he had to look for calm places in the here and now. Whether one pursues mindfulness or another avenue, the important thing is that each of us gets there. We each need that waft of summer breeze, that ability to, as the old verse goes, keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs. Maybe Jed Clampett wasn’t such a hick after all. Let’s stop running, and walk for a while – even if it’s a little while.
Blast from the Past: Martin’s long-deceased father tells him that “maybe there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are and summer nights too. Maybe you haven’t looked in the right place.”