14 January 2015


One sunny afternoon back in college, I sat beside a bright window, tucked in a booth across a table from a man whom I'd just met. 

"Who are you and who do you hope to become?" he asked. 

I glanced over his head to rest my eyes and ponder for a while, looked down at the table, then raised my gaze to meet his warm brown eyes. As thoughts came to mind, I shifted in my seat, averted my gaze and without interruption, I shared scattered thoughts. A slow, steady stream of words followed. And when the spaces between my words stretched into a comfortable silence between us, he finally responded. 

"You've spoken for nearly ten minutes," he stated simply, "but told me only what you do." 

And so, I suspect, began my undoing. 

So, what do you do? I've been asked this dreadful question more times than I can count in the decades since then. And I still don't have a good response. 

"Um, laundry... dishes... Pilates... (insert awkward silence)... Um, I don't..."

The thing I began to consider that sunny afternoon on my college campus is the unsettling realization that doing isn't really the point; doing can and often will be undone. A lifetime later, I'm still trying on the idea that the question of what I do is of little consequence to the deeper question, the real question I wish to answer with my life

"If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth," Brene' Brown writes. This is not the tale I've been told. In a culture so focused on and fueled by doing, I think it is a tale worth telling, however. 

Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the gripping story of redemption and survival I'm reading right now, writes of a moment of clarity in which two men drift  in open water -- starving and still. 

"One morning, they woke to a strange stillness. The rise and fall of the raft had ceased, and it sat virtually motionless. There was no wind. The ocean stretched out in all directions in glossy smoothness, regarding the sky and reflecting its image in crystalline perfection..."
"Louie found that the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge... Here drifting in almost total silence, with no scents other than the singed odor of the raft, no flavors on his tongue, nothing moving... every vista empty save water and sky, his time unvaried and unbroken, his mind was freed of an encumbrance that civilization had imposed on it. In his head, he could roam anywhere, and he found that his mind was quick and clear, his imagination unfettered and supple. He could stay with a thought for hours, turning it about."

The consequence and promise of this moment at the center of the earth takes my breath away. These men were wasting away on a raft in the middle of the ocean after more than 40 days at sea, yet in this moment, thirst, hunger and fear abated; doing ceased and beauty remained. 

It's a new year and the dawn of a new day. I think I'd like to sit with this for while. 

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