It’s Friday, ending the first week of a new semester. Our district started the school year with 30 faculty and staff members out, having either tested positive for Covid-19 or in quarantine for direct exposure to it. But I don’t want to talk about it. My mind is weary of grappling with the bewildering phenomenon of people’s resistance to vaccination and safety measures like masking.
My heart is bleeding for the people suffering torture and oppression in Afghanistan. As the mother of a disabled Army veteran, I can only imagine how families of soldiers felled in that country are feeling now. But I don’t want to talk about it. My brain is numbed from processing round-the-clock reports and arguments from friends, TV and social media.
My former college roommate is grieving the imminent loss of her sister to cancer. She’s one of several dear friends pierced by bereavement during the past few weeks. I’ve cried with and for each of them, lamenting their pain and loss. But I don’t want to talk about it. My spirit is too drained to articulate its sorrow.
Sometimes it seems the best I can do is pull aside for a moment and just shut myself down. Don’t talk. Don’t think. Just rest awhile. Concentrate my attention on something that requires no thought, no judgment, no evaluation, no complex decisions or mental gyrations. Pause and breathe.
This week I stopped everything I was doing and worked a jigsaw puzzle, a complicated one with multi-colored patterns and textures. Nothing strenuous, merely old-fashioned search and place engaging only my eyes and hands. It was refreshing – unexpectedly so – and soothed my agitated thoughts.
In our high tech world packed with frenzied schedules, communications overload and financial demands, it’s easy to bypass the pull of simplicity. Moments of quiet rest – prayer, meditation, handwork, reading, playing – are not just enjoyable, but truly necessary for maintaining balance between mind and spirit. After pouring so much energy into engaging the world’s assaults, our hearts need islands of calm for healing and restoration.
When I was a young mother scrambling to keep ahead of five children and the chores they generated, I experienced a pang of guilt every time I sat down during the day. I felt that I had to justify any moment I grabbed for myself. No one ever told me that planning breaks for me into my chaotic schedule would benefit my whole family.
It has taken this long in my life to understand that I don’t need permission to rest, and that my mind and heart require it as much as my body. While acknowledging that I can’t use self-care as an excuse to avoid work, duties, or responsibilities, I’ve learned that it’s okay to draw aside and take for myself the time I need for personal renewal. The words that Joseph Brackett penned in 1848 make sense to me now:
the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.