Near the beginning of each Spring, around the time the fog quit creeping across the valley, my slightly-younger brother and I devoted time to cloud-gazing. We’d find ourselves lured outdoors on warmish afternoons and stretch out on the greening grass, staring up at the sky, knowing full well those performance-quality clouds showed up only during the weeks after the last frost and before blazing heat blistered our sidewalks. More exciting, the limited-time activity arrived while weather reports told us folks on the Eastern edge of the of US still had to shovel snow. We loved the idea of playing in the snow, but our clouds brought magic. Oh, the things we would see!
Dancing elephants. Halloween masks and Santa beards and flying saucers. Books and frying pans and baseballs being torn apart as if clobbered by some celestial giant who had rounded the bases and arrived home before we could see her or him. We laughed at floating typewriters, upside-down dirigibles, and clouds masquerading as balloons. How many hours we invested each spring in gazing up and then imagining the shapes into people or objects seems impossible to calculate. Those hours, I’m convinced, were time well spent.
There’s something about taking time for imagining and dreaming, for just hanging around, even for not thinking about much of anything. Many of us practice mindfulness, and that’s a wonderful, portable, adaptable self-care activity whether we’re in the backyard sipping tea or warming up the kitchen by baking cookies. But just taking time for … nothing in particular … and treasuring it, moment by moment, without trying to fill it with screen-time or reading or chores. Ah, that’s heavenly!
My mom used to love crossword puzzles. She took breaks with the NY Times crossword and a pen, confident and focused. Stay-at-home moms back in my mom’s day did not worry about carpooling (everyone walked to school) or extracurricular activities (those were limited and also involved walking). In smaller homes, moms had some time for crossword puzzles and a daytime television or radio show or two. In contrast, last school year, before the pandemic, the daytime schedule, penciled in from dawn to dusk, opened small gaps (waiting for others) when I read news, checked social media, worked on crafts, and planned menus. It seemed, in those moments, a better use of time than gazing at the treetops as they changed through the seasons. The weekends filled quickly with shopping and preparations for the coming week.
In our busy culture, I think we’ve lost a lot when we ignore those opportunities to stop, take a breath, and wonder ‘what do I want to do right now?’ We lose more, I believe, when doing nothing leaves us feeling guilty, as if pausing is itself lazy, shows poor character, or otherwise indicates some weakness. Perhaps it’s healthier to consider that the pauses between words give us stories and the pauses between notes make melodies instead of staying busy trying to keep up with basic household tasks and making a living, without much thought to making a life.
This came to mind during the past week because of some protocols put in place to help the 3 people in the house who tested positive for the virus avoid close contact with the 2 people in the house who tested negative. Doing so opened a few gaps during which I had time to ponder.
It felt like a luxury. Like something I shouldn’t “waste” time on when there were things I could do. Still, I surrendered. One day I considered how my ideal life would look. Another day I recognized things for which I’m thankful. Walking in circles in the backyard and listening to a favorite podcast, I paused. I realized I didn’t have to rush to pick up someone from school or grocery shop. Instead, I stopped to feel the sunshine and listen to the roaring sound of the wind as it whisked through trees and shrubs and around buildings and walls. I turned off notifications for news, remembered a time when we all felt informed by watching the news once an evening. In those days, the Fairness Doctrine required facts and balance in reporting, so everyone heard the same facts and even though there were many opinions, nobody, except perhaps my off-the-grid uncle, argued with things like the integrity of election results.
Here is my unsolicited advice, based on my decades of experience rushing around trying to do it all:
Give yourself the gift of some free time. Let your mind wander, though living in a fantasy world isn’t what seems healthiest here. An acquaintance said she made Saturdays her days of rest from all electronics and that opened time for breaks and expanded her creativity. A family member mentioned going to a casino to just watch others fascinated her and left her feeling energized (hey, not my preference, but this is an individual activity!). Another friend loves trains and takes both long short rides – even on commuter runs – because he says the world looks different from that perspective.
That inspired me to consider my style of doing-nothing. While I trust we all have a gift for slipping into a pause-mode, my ideas centered on places. Those include the beach, a pond where ducks frolic, the plaza outside a nearby coffee shop where there are people and it’s easy to maintain a safe distance, a few parks where there are wide unpaved walking paths, the patio. Oh, and one day, I want to take my grandsons to try some cloud-gazing.
You deserve free time to relax, to just be you, to feel connected to the world, to see the world through new eyes, and to feel content.
May you be healthy, happy, safe, at ease, and strong. May we all be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.
Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis
FYI: For updated coronavirus information, including where and when to test or seek vaccination, visit your local health department website. Free services are available in many locations. For more general info, check out the World Health Organization website at www.who.int, see what’s posted at www.cdc.gov or contact your family doctor for information and advice.