By Angie Lee
“Can you come in and pack me up please?” Sent six minutes ago.
Having a physical disability, I rely on personal care attendants (PCAs) to assist me with all physical aspects of daily living, including getting set up before class and packed up after. On Wednesdays, I have two classes back to back with ten minutes in-between. Even for students who bike or skateboard, having only ten minutes between classes results in a rushed transition, faster pedaling. Only able to go as fast as my electric wheelchair can, I feel an increased pressure on Wednesdays between 2:20 and 2:30 p.m., when I have to get from the engineering quad to the opposite corner in Main Quad. I make sure to text my PCA, who waits outside my lecture hall during class, at precisely 2:18 p.m., asking her to come in and pack me up so that I can start zooming to my next class at exactly 2:20.
Last Wednesday, I glanced nervously back and forth between my phone screen and the door in the back of the lecture hall. I’d sent the message at 2:18, as usual. It was 2:20, and my PCA still wasn’t here, helping me take my glasses off and putting my laptop away. Soon, the class ended, and my fellow classmates began shuffling out of the classroom. It was 2:24 p.m., and I was about twelve minutes away from my 2:30 discussion section. I began to panic. I sent a passive-aggressive “Hello?” to my PCA, and when she finally came through the doors a minute later, I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated. The class I had to get to only had 15 people, which made it much more awkward to come in late. My PCA apologized and said that the first message came through at the same time as the second. I definitely understood – that happened to me all the time.
“No worries at all! It’s not a big deal,” I said, even though I thought it was a big deal. Now, looking back, I’m frustrated at myself for being frustrated at the situation, because it really isn’t a big deal.
A friend and I recently talked about how it’s weird that we tend to measure distance in minutes. A typical response to “how far away is it?” is “about 20 minutes.” I find it much easier to gauge distance in time, rather than in miles. I think this mentality, this tendency, is exemplary of the inherent pressures we feel to not only get places, but to get places quickly – physical places, yes, but also to certain statuses/positions in society.
Though I’m definitely not the type of person who shows up 30 minutes early to all of their appointments, I hate being late. I hate being behind. I hate being off my planned schedule. That Wednesday, I zoomed as fast as my wheelchair would let me, not slowing down when there was a bump in the road. I zoomed past the beautiful palm trees in the area connecting the engineering quad and Main Quad. I zoomed past the majestic arches of Main Quad and paintings on Memorial Church. And while I usually try to stop so as to not photobomb tourists’ photos, I zoomed straight through a family’s photo by the Rodin sculptures in Main Quad.
But as I was zooming, I realized how silly I was being. Why was I in such a hurry? Why did I rush around so much? I rush not only when I am late to something, but even in my day to day life: I rush to eat dinner so that I can finish my reading, I rush to finish my reading so that I can move on to the p-set, I rush to finish my p-set so that I can get to bed, and then I wake up and I rush to get ready so that I can get to class and the cycle just starts all over again. I think part of me thinks that rushing to do things will eventually get me to a day when I won’t have to rush – to worry about doing anything. However, this is simply untrue – there’s always going to be something you can be doing, there’s always going to be a “next step” in your day and in your life. We should enjoy the now, instead of worrying about getting to the next.
While I’m not saying it’s okay to be late to everything, I do think, as do many Stanford students and human beings in general, that I need to work on slowing down and not taking myself so seriously. So what if I miss out on six minutes of my discussion section? I could gain six minutes of admiring the architecture of the school, of having some time alone to think and reflect, of soaking in the nice California weather, of just breathing.
Take time for yourself. Let the tourists take their picture. Stop to talk with someone you haven’t seen in a while. Dare I say it, be late. It really isn’t a big deal. Slow down and don’t worry – your next step will always be there, waiting.
Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu.