I always wanted to live and work in the city, until I did. And then, I couldn’t wait for the ever-coveted 4 p.m., when I could let the train carry me out of the city to my quiet house, on my quiet street by the ocean. It strikes me now that maybe I am just like everyone else, chasing an eternity of 4 p.m.s, or 5 p.m.s, or 6 p.m.s.
For the 20 and 30 somethings whose entire existence is bound to the city, 4 p.m.s line the path to a nice four-bedroom home with a garage; to the suburbs, away from the hustle and bustle; to settling down and a minivan and family vacations.
For the 55-year-old reading the newspaper who has taken the same train every day for the last thirty years, the 5 p.m.s are stacking up in pursuit of a 401K, a camper to take to Florida, and endless afternoons of watching golf (and occasionally playing it).
For the single mom of three, the 6 p.m.s may never get her out of the city, but in them lie a shadow of hope for her children, that they might beat the odds. The 6 p.m.s hold the promise of money for SAT prep, for college tuition and maybe even of the suburbs and the 401K.
For all three and for many in between, those numbers on the clock hold a reprieve every fifth day of the week. A fleeting breath of “thank god for Fridays.” 48 hours to watch football, to read books, to sleep in, or more often, 48 hours of behind the scenes preparation for the other five days.
“Real life” is squeezed and shoved into evenings and weekends, always anticipating the day when it no longer has to be. The people in the city race with bated breath toward those moments of brief enjoyment or leisure. The 8 a.m.s are simultaneously the enemy and the thing that makes it all possible.
I watch people running, sprinting, sometimes dragging down the corridors to the subway, or with their eyes closed, riding on the 44 bus. And I wonder how many hours, days, and years have they spent chasing the promise of 4 p.m.?
So many of us have sold our souls to the city, to our work, for a season or for our whole lives. Many have hypothesized about what we are chasing: a paycheck, The Man and his capitalist vision, success, “the American Dream.” Some people get what they chase; some are disappointed.
But what lies behind the 4 p.m.s? A move to the suburbs, a happy retirement, a family’s ability to climb the ladder, and every weekend in between are all dim reflections of our deep desire for rest. However strong our draw to the city, we also feel that something is missing, as we are pulled toward the end of the workday and everything that follows it. We are pulled back to our roots in the grass and streams of Eden, toward stillness and communion with the Maker.
And yet, our busy and occupied lives slowly chip away at our ability to experience rest. The city never sleeps and so neither do we. When a moment of rest finally arrives, we meet it filled with restlessness. An evening or a weekend or a retirement suddenly stares us in the face and we wonder, at a loss, what our purpose should be now.
As I stare the magnetism of the city and its pace square in the eyes, I feel like the proverbial hamster, stuck on the wheel, wondering how to dismount, or if dismounting is even possible. Even in the stillness of my quiet house, on my quiet street by the ocean, I search for noise and fabricate idols that loosely resemble some fallen version of rest.
But the Spirit moves within me—a gentle whisper toward the road less traveled, a promise that there is greater rest to be found that transcends the 4 p.m.s. It urges me to slow my steps in the passages of the city, to break my gaze away from the clock and look around, to sit—on the train, at my desk, at my house—and to breathe. It invites me to stop long enough to see the slivers of Eden in each displaced place I come to. It begs me to remember that the city is not my destination, and neither is the 4 p.m. It begs me to remember, lest I forget where I am going and from where I came.
Abby Millard is a 2019 graduate of Gordon College with a B.A. in International Affairs. Raised by a writer and a storyteller, she has loved words since she was very small. She was recently inspired to submit her work for publication by her students at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy in Boston, where she works as a fellow with 826 Boston, a youth writing and publishing organization.
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