How often did you work, rest and play at the same time?
Those questions were the topics for discussion at my church recently, and we were surprised to discover how often we choose to spend our time doing things that feed us in more ways than one.
Gardening, for example, is work for sure, but meditative and joy-filled too. We take days to prepare for camping trips and more days cleaning up after, but the time spent resting by the campfire or playing in the lake make it all worth while. A hike up a forest path accelerates our heart rate and strains the muscles, and then we get to enjoy the view and sleep really well at night.
When those questions were asked of me, writing came to mind.
Writing is hard work. Whether it’s paid work for my jobs or labouring over the second draft of my novel, I must give of myself mentally, physically and emotionally—sometimes painfully—to get words on the page.
I also play with the words, move them around, change them, and chew on them until they feel just right. I feel that jolt of joy when I know that I’ve captured some elusive idea exactly right.
I’m a writer because it’s something I need to do. When I have fulfilled that need, expended the energy and played with ideas, gratified rest follows. Even if I know a work is not complete or that I will need to revisit a paragraph or concept, I rest with the same sense of accomplishment that the hiker experiences at the top of the mountain. The rest serves my writing too. When I step away and then return, the time away gives me fresh perspective and I see ways to make the work even better.
What did you do this summer? Did it feel like nothing but work? Did you play? Have you rested?
This is the welcome mat below deck of the Pride of Baltimore II, a Baltimore Clipper tall ship, circa the War of 1812.
The crew of the Pride of Baltimore II find their joy on a craft that catches wind in mighty sails that carry them across the bounding main — and the Great Lakes. They rest easy on a ship that can anchor when needed, save them in peril, and fire up weapons to fend off foes.
Their happy place is nothing like mine — I prefer dry land, uncrowded sleeping space and luxurious showers — but I find joy in knowing that the crew of the awesome tall ship is in their happy place when skimming across glinting waters .
The first time I saw my friend Maryanne, she and her eighteen-month-old son were building houses out of sand in the shade of a play structure in our neighbourhood park. Seated side by side, they packed sand into plastic containers and constructed houses of all shapes and sizes.
I played with my own eighteen-month-old daughter nearby and eavesdropped on their conversation.
“What kind of house do you want to build next?” she asked.
“A bungalow,” her son said.
WOW. What toddler knows the word bungalow? And who was this Wonder Of Women with him?
Over the twenty-three years of our friendship (both those children are now almost twenty-five), I have said WOW about Maryanne many times. She has other exceptional qualities besides an advanced vocabulary and a knack for creative story building.
She celebrated her 60th birthday on the weekend and the occasion caused me to reflect on her WOW qualities.
GENEROSITY – I have been at her house to see her open her door wide to people in need. No matter if an arrival is unannounced or if it means re-evaluating food supplies or sleeping arrangements, she accommodates with grace and dignity. It is a gift rarer than the finest diamonds.
SELF-WITNESS – She has the ability to rise above herself, look down and sort life out from a higher perspective. This skill has led her to success in business and helped her to overcome tragic loss.
INTUITION – She seems to reach through the veil of the universe. She just knows things. Sometimes I have to do a double-take after hearing her insights.
LAUGHTER – She is fun. We laugh together a lot.
Her generosity means that saying “No” does not come naturally, but her self-witness is telling her that sometimes that’s exactly what she needs to start saying. She’s learning to listen to her intuition and to choose what serves her and what does not. Which activities, causes or people should she say no to because they drain her without ever giving back? Which activities, causes or people energize her or bring her laughter?
Maryanne is ever-evolving and choosinghow to spend her time and with whom to spend that time. Like Pokemon’s Pikachu saying “I choose you!”
I will be sixty in a few years too, so I’m also am developing the steely inner resolve that comes with the wisdom of age. I am more discerning about how I spend my days, and with whom. I am drawing firm boundaries around demands on my time. One thing I know: Time spent with Maryanne is time well spent. I choose her!
She inspires me to be a better person. I’m not Maryanne’s best friend, but I aim to be the best friend for her in certain circumstances. I hope I refill her well in some way and bring her laughter.
On her 60th birthday I asked myself, “What gift could I give to such a WOW person?” The only thing I could think of was to let her know this:
I didn’t even know such a bird existed, and I thought, “What if I was in the right place at the right time, and an olive-sided flycatcher alighted on a branch next to me? I wouldn’t appreciate it at all. I wouldn’t know that it was uncommon but fantastic!”
I experienced that uncomfortable feeling of being blind to something important, like when a person meets a celebrity but doesn’t recognize them, and afterwards someone says, “You know who that was, right?”
On my nature walks I could be rubbing shoulders with the bird equivalent of Tom Hanks or Helen Mirren and not even know it.
I’m not sure there’s a resolution to my problem. I have enough going on in my life (too much), so I can’t add birding to the list. I will keep reading and learning though, in the hope that in future more uncommon but fantastic things will get the appreciation they deserve.