Being sick involves a lot of time spent not doing much.
We call it resting up for the next activity or recovering from the one just engaged in. And there’s a lot of healing going on below the surface. Or at least we hope there’s healing going on. It’s a little hard to tell at this point.
What it looks like is me lying in rumpled sheets with a stack of pillows behind my back and another under my knees. A scattering of books and papers. The pen always seems to get lost in the bedding, hopefully while retracted. But not always! My laptop open, looking at pretty pictures on Instagram or streaming something on Netflix. This week’s offering has been five seasons of an Australian soap with no redeeming qualities beyond quirky, likeable characters and some gorgeous interiors. The only thing I learned was a slang term for anal sex. It did not improve me in any way. It was, in other words, exactly what was required.
I have moments, so many moments, that I worry that this year has been a complete waste. I find myself thinking of 2016 as my lost year.
Has it been?
It has been unproductive. I have not used it to improve myself physically, intellectually or spiritually. Most of the diems have been left uncarped. My moments have passed unmindfully. My plans and dreams have remained nebulous. Unacted on. I have mostly been aimless.
I was reflecting on this the other day while brushing my teeth, which is really hard, because the arthritis has spread to my elbows and jaw, making a routine task a painful challenge.
And I don’t know if it was a particular twinge or a trick of the light or the sound of the dog’s toenails as he pattered across the floor, but I looked at this huge stretch of unproductive, unimproving, unmindful time and thought, “How lucky am I?”
We look at childhood with such nostalgia, see children as these wondrous little Buddhas. Are encouraged to put in a lot of effort to try to get back to that state of being. Could it be because they aren’t mindful? Aren’t productive, have no clue about diems or carpes?
I look back at my own childhood. I was very rarely in any particular moment, of the moments I can remember. I was dreaming dreams, spinning fantasies in my head, looking forward to other, better moments. Not Buddha-like at all.
When we’re children, we let life wash over us and pass us by and carry us along as we get distracted by leaves and bugs and that bike we want for Christmas so bad it hurts. At the end of a perfectly aimless day we have nothing to show for it except maybe a few memories that will fade away under a stack of other, differently perfect aimless days.
But as grownups, we feel compelled to pay mindful attention and celebrate those who have learned how. To move purposefully through our days, to make even our downtime count for something, to document, to at the very least take a good picture so we can call back the memories.
And yes, the desire to keep these memories and to have our days move us toward some destination from which we can look back fondly is beautifully human. But if you tilt your head a certain way so that the sound of toenails hits your eardrum just right, you might see the treasure we all carry and that carries us, of countless aimless days where nothing much happened and you can’t remember what you did or the way his eyes lit up or the beautiful things she said and you didn’t get any pictures of the way the sun moved across the floor day after day.
And that treasure, that stack of unremembered, aimless moments can buoy you up, can carry you through, can add up to a year, a life, that isn’t lost at all.
In this season of perfection, maybe take a break. Set aside the camera, lose a list or two. Nap instead of meditating. Watch a silly movie instead of practising your French. In this season of productivity, try a little aimlessness. And tell me how it goes.