Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Empty Space

I’ve been reading Maggie Jackson’s book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. In it she describes a modern world in which people take a “perverse pride in their busyness.” So, I am asking myself if this is true of me. Is it even possible for me not to be busy? Not to fit every good thing in to my schedule that possibly fits?
Empty space must be filled. I know this is true in my house. As soon as my countertops are cleared and cleaned they seem instantly to attract stuff.

My calendar does the same thing. An empty white square…with no little notation of a plan, no commitment to connect, no project to accomplish…quickly vanishes. And something in me nods approval—this is efficient, I think, this is exciting, encouraging, and productive. Even the act of writing (or typing) in the future task feels satisfying. And so, usually I don’t stop to question, I don’t hesitate and wonder—what would have been?

What would that evening have been if we hadn’t gone?

What would my child’s afternoon have held if the playdate hadn’t been scheduled?

What would we have said to one another if we weren’t in a hurry?

What does boredom feel like?

When will I reflect on that slight anxiety, or wistfulness, or that thought I keep meaning to get back to—those buried, half-formed bits of me that I am only aware of in that split second before I turn on the car radio or check facebook?

When my “now" is always underscored by the urgency and anticipation of “next,” how am I changed? Am I the same wife, mother, friend, am I the same self at all?

In Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, the title character ruminates on the fleeting moment and the accumulated life that living in the present creates—

“You think you will never forget.

“You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or can restore them to your mind.

“And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence. (148)

And so I am trying, against the tide of a world that “takes a perverse pride in busyness,” against the pull of countless distractions, activities, possibilities and opportunities, I am trying to preserve empty space.

Who knows what I will find there?

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