Life Notes: In Praise of Idleness
The importance of doing absolutely nothing
By Sally Friedman

Scene One: A Summer Weekend 

My husband and I are rushing around our bedroom, bumping into one another as we dress for a cocktail party neither of us wants to go to.  

I snarl at him for insisting we get to the party on time, when everyone knows that when it comes to cocktail parties, it’s practically mandated that you don’t show up at the appointed hour. 

He snarls at me for sitting on his suit jacket, which he has carefully laid out on the bed, while I put on my pantyhose (which turn out to have a run the length of the Delaware River). 

We are exhausted, tense, frazzled and also famished, because we haven’t bothered to eat much since we’re bound to blow our diets at this blasted party anyway. 

Something is wrong with this picture… aren’t weekends –  especially summer weekends – supposed to offer restorative powers? 

Scene Two: Another summer weekend  

We have accomplished absolutely nothing by Saturday at dusk. 

We did not tackle the still-major unpacking project that awaits us from our recent move. Nor did we go on a single errand, despite the list marked “urgent” posted on the refrigerator door. The phone has been quiet, and so have we. The silence is delicious. 

For the first time in far too long, we have rediscovered this thing loosely known as leisure. The longer I live, the more I realize how essential true idleness is. 

Not semi-idleness, the type punctuated by spurts of activity. Not the typical frenzy to “jam in” a little relaxation, which is, of course, an absurd contradiction in terms. I speak of the kind of inactivity that includes daydreaming, staring at clouds, lying in a hammock or even in bed just to regroup and revive.  

Since it’s still summer, at least for a few more weeks, I hear people all around me making their vacation plans. Friends of ours are heading for Europe, where they will see eight countries in eleven days. Lucky them! 

My cousin and her husband are doing the Grand Canyon in grand style. They have every second mapped out, and there is not a natural wonder they will miss or an attraction they will fail to cover. In fact, they speak of this jaunt as if they are strategizing an epic battle against spontaneity. 

Our pals from college are frantically furnishing their place at the Hamptons where, for the next few weekends, they will greet hordes of overnight guests who will leave damp towels on their gleaming wooden floors and sand in the bathtub. The hosts, you see, use summer as their time for repaying social obligations, thus obliterating any hope of just plain kicking back.  

My husband and I, after an alarming inventory of our own struggle with life’s complications, have made our own vacation plans. We are earmarking two weeks this month to do absolutely nothing. We are not heading for the west coast, the mountains or another continent, although we may opt for a couple of day trips to Long Beach Island where, with a little luck, we’ll find that the beach we love is not packed with people. 

I suspect that somewhere along the line, we’ll feel a twinge of guilt at this exercise in unplugging ourselves from routine and may feel uneasy about our lack of purpose and direction. And at that point, I hope we remember we’re at the stage of life we always talked about, the stage of kicking back, decompressing, renewing and reviewing our lives. 

Ask some seniors about how the years are flying by. Ask them whether they regret missing a cocktail party – or missing a sunset. Let them tell you how breathtakingly short a grandson or granddaughter’s childhood is, and whether they remember a museum they once visited in some foreign city or how it felt to take a walk with an old friend they haven’t seen in too long. 

And here’s what my husband and I have been reminded of this summer in the winter of our lives: That wandering the highways of the soul can be the most glorious destination of all. 

August 2018
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