Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Godly Boredom

Sun through clouds, Atlanta. -crg

I’m writing this on the afternoon of Superbowl Sunday from frenzied Superbowl host Atlanta which currently looks like, in the words of a city planner neighbor, a city under occupation: roadblocks and street closings, helicopters buzzing the skies, small planes carrying banners, big planes carrying visitors, sirens screaming at all hours, a heavy and active police and security and first responder presence. 

In this context of hyperactivity, Book Review Editor Pamela Paul’s column, “Let Children Get Bored Again,” in this morning’s New York Times speaks all the more loudly and clearly: “Boredom is useful. It’s good for you.” Explaining the potential for constructiveness and resourcefulness in “empty” time, she says, “Perhaps in an incessant, up-the-ante world, we could do with a little less excitement.”

Asserting “Life isn’t meant to be an endless parade of amusements,” she questions “the teacher’s job to entertain as well as educate.”

Christian spirituality author Henri Nouwen critiqued “entertainment” by breaking down the word entertain, which means “to keep between”—in other words, to keep us betwixt and between in constant tension about what happens next.

Ms. Paul reminisces about the days when children were “left unattended with nothing but bookshelves and tree branches, and later, bad afternoon television.” She quotes Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, “There is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom.”

“It’s when you are bored that stories set in,” she declares. “Checking out groceries at the supermarket, I invented narratives around people’s purchases.”

This reminded me of how I filled the empty spaces as a ticket taker and usher at a movie theater when I was in college. I thought one of my first books would be Views from a Ticket Taker.

It also made me think of a digression in my 2010 book, The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me about Life:

Saturday was a mixed blessing growing up. No school, but I loved school, or at least I loved the structure it gave my day. My dad worked on Saturday, unfortunately. My mom would get up very early to fix his breakfast before work, then return to bed for a little while. …

I remember bouncing with my brother and sister and mom on her bed Saturday mornings, before or after breakfast, and we would sit and visit and enjoy a little time together with nothing to do but laugh and talk and dream. A whole empty day stretched out before us, a day of housecleaning and laundry and reading books (never magazines: early it was instilled in me by my mother that if I had time to read, I should be reading a book) and watching television.

My sister and years later, my brother, would drive Mom to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping, if my father had not done so the night before. (Strangely, my mother never learned to drive.) And I would be left alone, a time I also loved, but also a lonely time when I wished my friends from school were closer. Going to a parochial school meant fellow students were dispersed throughout my then-known universe, the 500 square miles of Los Angeles. …

Saturday was my longest day, a day whose structure I had more freedom to shape than any other day of the week, making me feel sorry for those children today whose free time is overly scheduled by ambitious or well-intentioned parents. Small wonder that my life now consists of a succession of “Saturdays,” having chosen to be a writer. It is a life blessed by more freedom than the lives of others, though it is also fraught with fear, having no imposed structure but my own, and having no assured income, especially when writing something like this book, entirely on speculation. Yet it does stretch my days, it does stretch my life. And it offers me sanctuary to “stand under” (as Camus wrote of it), if not to wholly understand. [pp 12-15]

Reflecting on all this today, I think how boredom may become a sacred time and place, a fertile sanctuary for creativity and dreams, a godly opportunity.

Perhaps it was Godly boredom that led to the Big Bang and the evolution of life and to you and to me.

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1 comment:

  1. Boredom can be very good. This came up on Facebook and I told about one time sitting for a long time as a child putting drops of Elmer's glue on a piece of paper. It was fascinating. Later, my family had a two-day drive twice a year, and in those two days my brother and I sat in the private far back seat of the station wagon, talking our heads off, making up stories, theorizing about physics, watching human and natural phenomena pass by the windows. I miss that.