I’ve put my tv in the basement. I’m giving it up for the summer. Like Lent, but with better weather. Summer seems a good time to me to make a fresh start. When everything’s green and the days are long and the thick warm air reaches out with its long humid fingers and grabs hold of the tail of your shirt and begs you to just slow down a little.
When my friend came over to help me move my tv to the dank, dark basement where I wouldn’t be tempted to plug it in and just watch one show, I told her that I wasn’t deciding to give it up for all time, just for the summe, for a summer sabbath. It’s not that tv’s bad. It’s just bad for me. I come home from an evening of meetings and watch a show to unwind before bed. And then I watch another. And another. I fall asleep in front of the tv only to wake up at 1:30 in the morning and have to let my dog out and then I go up to bed and am unable to sleep. I watch tv when I’m blue or bored or angry. It’s my drug of choice.
Instead of starting a load of laundry or emptying the dishwasher or writing thank you notes, I’ll sit down in front of the tv. But when I’ve thought of tv as something that gets in the way of my productivity I haven’t been motivated to change. We all need ways to unwind.
Sabbath is God’s gift to affirm that life is about more than we get done. Sabbath is about renewal not numbing. It’s about unplugging not disengaging. Letting down, not numbing out.
It’s been a week without tv – so far so good. It hasn’t been terrible. The other night I came home after a long day of meetings. I looked toward the empty corner where my tv used to be. Instead of turning it on and losing myself in the flashing scenes, I sat with my arm around my dog and breathed.
There isn’t a lot I do just for the fun of it.
Remember swinging? You pumped and pumped your legs but didn’t get anywhere. What do you do that’s like that?
I just finished National Novel Writing Month. A not for profit of the same name encourages people to sign up to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. “What happens if you don’t finish?” friends often asked when I lamented how many words behind I had slipped. “What do you get if you finish?” they asked when I celebrated a great day of writing. The answer to both was “nothing.” No great honors for winning, no fines for not finishing. It was just for the fun of it.
I’m sure it’s been good for my writing to put butt in chair and write most days. I’m sure my “sticktoittiveness” muscles got stronger. But the real reason, at least in the end, that I stuck to it is that it was fun.
Most of what I do has a “so that” attached. I exercise so that I can get in shape. I cook so that I can eat. Doing something just for the pure joy in it is the definition of play, and a critical part of Sabbath. It’s what children know how to do.
I want to finish my novel and go back and edit it. I’d like to see where the story takes me. I do have the occasional fantasy about what it would be like to have it published and be on the New York Times best seller list and get interviewed by Oprah…but if that’s why I continued to work on the story then I would have quit long ago. The “who do you think you are?” demons would have silenced me right from the beginning. Doing something just for the fun of it gives you permission to do it because it doesn’t have lead to anything meaningful.
My day off always makes me think about death. Not death in general – my death.
The day usually starts out well. I get up early and luxuriate in the morning. There is no rush to get to the gym before I head into the church or to a meeting. I can sit around in my bathrobe drinking coffee and reading the newspaper or a novel.
Do I take on a project that will give me a sense of accomplishment? Do I spend the day at a museum or kayaking or exploring a Chicago neighborhood? Do I curl up with a book? What about the laundry that needs to be done, the refrigerator that needs to be filled and the dog hair in the corners that needs to be swept? There’s always the task at work I successfully avoided all week that I could knock out in an hour or two at home.
Can I really head to the forest preserve even if I didn’t tick through every item on my to-do list? Do I get a day off when the stairs need to be vacuumed? Maybe if I just worked a little harder my sermon for Sunday would be done and the laundry would be folded.
My day off chastises me – yes, I confess, I am inadequate.
I imagine people I know doing meaningful things on their days off. Surely people with children are on family outings connecting deeply with one another. I probably know someone who is writing a book or building a tiny house in their back yard. I’m trying not to make eye contact with my dog who wants another walk.
I assess my life. I have no significant other but many close friends and a fabulous dog. I am housekeeping challenged. I have a job I feel called to and mostly enjoy. Some days I battle loneliness and melancholy. I’ve made decisions I regret and have been wondrously blessed.
My Rabbi friend tells me Sabbath is supposed to be a celebration of life. For me it’s a moment to accept the limits of my life. I will die. I will die without skiing in the Olympics, giving birth or being as neat as my mother.
And I will die. Folding all the laundry, vacuuming the couch cushions, and preparing a sermon is not going to change that. Maybe it’s okay to catch a movie.