Fifty years ago this week the New York poet Frank O’Hara published a pocket-sized collection, Lunch Poems, which raises the very contemporary issue of not having enough time. O’Hara writes about his day-to-day life making readers painfully aware of how little they notice their own. Revisiting the book I couldn’t help but think about what we do during lunch these days. I sometimes (but not usually) take a walk. O’Hara wrote a book. Ideally, we would take a break from computer screens and office chairs and remind ourselves about the world around us. More often, it’s surfing the web. Same screen, same chair.
It’s easy to let that lunch break become just another part of the day—something we need to do to get back to work. I’m as guilty as anyone. But what are the alternatives? In Choose the Life You Want, Tal Ben-Shahar says, “To become a connoisseur of life, to enjoy the richness that life has to offer, I sometimes need to slow down, to take my time.” I think O’Hara was similarly clued-in. He takes a lunch break and notices the mundane world outside of his office window, and in noticing makes it beautiful.
Maybe we can’t all slow down all of the time, but we can take a few minutes to do something else. My friends are always telling me they wish that they had more time to read. The time is there, but we use it up on mindless things. It’s the middle of June. Despite a little rain and a lot of humidity, it’s pretty spectacular here in New York City. Today at least I’m going to take a few minutes to be out to lunch.