The wheel whirls beneath your hands, the clay wet and cool between your fingers. Slow and steady you push down, shifting the ball fraction by fraction into center. You close your eyes and feel, letting your fingers see the wobbles and drifts off center. They push and pull gently, seeing what your eyes cannot until the clay is ready to throw, a creation in the works.
I first learned how to throw on a wheel at a local art shop the summer after ninth grade. It took until my junior year of high school in pottery class to perfect the art of centering the clay, to know exactly how it should feel. That year my art teacher was diagnosed with cancer and underwent multiple treatments. Despite the gravity of his illness, he drove the 30 miles into town from the mountainside almost every day, ready to impart his knowledge of clay to his students. For those willing to listen and really listen however, he had more than just pottery techniques to share. Clay and life, I learned, are not so different.
One day he gathered the class of twelve around one of the tables in the center of the room. Perched on high stools, the wet earthy smell of clay all around us, we prepared ourselves to listen to his story. He cleared his throat, rested his head on his clasped hands and told us about a young soldier in a war torn country.
Ambitious, smart and ready to do his duty for his country, the young soldier approached a building inside of which was an object he had been tasked with obtaining. As he and his team were about to enter, he received a warning that the building may not be secure. The young man paused but only for the briefest of moments before going ahead with his mission. Mere seconds later the building exploded, killing the young soldier and his team. They left behind families, grieving for their children lost too soon. The young man’s father, while speaking about his son’s death, had one message. Take your time, he said. Take your time. Had his son waited those few seconds longer, evaluated the situation a moment more, he would not have rushed into death’s waiting arms.
Take your time, my teacher told us. Pottery is not fast; it takes time. It takes time to center the clay, to balance it on the wheel so perfectly. It takes time to raise up the walls millimeter by millimeter into a beautiful creation. It takes time to dry, to trim, to carve. Some of my classmates, those (mistakenly) taking art for an easy credit, had spaced out, but a few of us were left watching our teacher, his eyes closed peacefully. I understood then that he wasn’t just talking about clay.
Like clay, life is yours to mold, but it take time and care to shape it into the creation you want. Take that time. You will not regret it.
Recently I feel like I have forgotten this lesson. I have become caught up in the fast pace of life, in the addictive need to always be occupied, to always be doing something productive. Today, however, I was reminded of my art teacher and his lesson. For some reason he drifted into my thoughts, a gentle reminder to return to this advice. And so, I gave myself permission to rest, to slow down, to move through the day without a specific agenda. I took my time with the things I did, careful where I placed my feet on my run, meandering at the market as I bought fruits and veggies, breathing in peacefully as I read my book. It has been years since I have been able to touch clay, but tonight I can feel the smoothness of it against my fingers as I focus on slowly building up the walls of my life.
It is time for me to take my time again in life.