Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. – John Lubbock
We must cultivate our own garden. – Voltaire
The wrinkles are winning.
A friend stopped by Wednesday to pick up something I’d forgotten to give her last week. I answered the door puffy-eyed, snotty-nosed, and gingerly touching my ever deepening crows feet.
Are you okay?
She’s one of those who remembers sooner than most that my life isn’t normal.
Sure, I said, just … June.
Each year you play Germany to my Poland, blitzkrieging your runny nose Luftwaffe, Panzer tank congestion, and goose step sneezes into my sinuses until I surrender with a weak Seig Heil and curl up on the couch with Benadryl and three boxes of Kleenex.
In case you’re wondering if I like you or not, June, let’s be clear:
Most years I can smell you coming. Whatever pollen bursts in the Fraser Valley on the first of your month is not my friend.
But this year you’re worse than most.
I emerged from the shower on Wednesday scrubbing my eyes so hard they stung. I knew I shouldn’t rub them, but knowing that only made me rub harder.
Why is this year so much worse than usual? I asked David.
As soon as I spoke the words I knew the answer. I ran to find my printout of Sprycel side effects, and sure enough, there it was: puffy eyes.
I haven’t had puffy eyes in … over a year.
My last visit to the oncologist revealed that although Sprycel was keeping me in a relatively safe zone, it wasn’t working as well as it could. One my one my doctor reviewed the side effects with me… nausea, diarrhea, puffy eyes, weight gain, bloating, fatigue, pain, insomnia… other than the last two, which had become fairly mild, I admitted I had largely no side effects.
The next week we mused about what the hematologist had said. I was always free to take the drugs at a different time of day if I wanted – bedtime, perhaps – to help with the first two side effects or the last three.
So three weeks ago, I decided to take Sprycel before bed.
The next morning, I woke up hungover.
Not really. I don’t really know what it feels like to be hungover, but all of a sudden all the side effects I hadn’t really missed so much came flooding back.
A cheese grater to my bones.
Crazy hormonal mood swings.
And. oh. my. The. puffy. eyes.
A friend told me last week that she feels fifteen and not forty.
I wanted to cry.
Please, oh please, let your fifteen rub off on my ninety-five so that the wrinkles slow down their lightning war across my face.
David laughed when he heard me say this.
You just need some rest, he said.
(as if sleep alone could fight the caverns under my eyes)
So when rest came, I had rather high expectations for it: Grant my wildest dreams! Give me purpose! Bring me good news of great joy! Cure my cancer! Give me a face lift!
But none of that happened.
And when it didn’t, I was #(*%^$#&% mad about it.
These past weeks, Netflix observed David’s and my viewing habits – BBC’s Sherlock, The Hour, House of Cards, The Newsroom – and recommended we watch some documentaries.
Some historical, others political, the highest rated was
World War II in Super HD Colour.
Okay, #1) I don’t trust any title that has to say ‘in colour.’ That’s really your biggest feature? You probably suck.
And #2) I’ve just read three books about the Nazis. They’re animals. Crazy people. Definitely not black bears. I get it.
We decided to give it our sixty-second test.
(We give every show sixty seconds to catch our attention and sixty seconds to keep it. Just like I give each book one page to grab my interest and hold it. There’s too much other good stuff out there to be more merciful than that.)
We were hooked.
I’ve often wondered why the world spent so much time in war in the first four decades of the twentieth century. After such a grueling battle in 1914-1918, why would they plunge back in a mere twenty years later?
Answer: they didn’t know how to handle rest.
Our culture glorifies unstructured, thoughtless, hedonistic lifestyle. We envy the rich and famous for being able to afford anything they want and do anything they want and not have to work for it – or so we think.
But it was this very lifestyle that left the Allies vulnerable to attack in the late 1930’s.
They were so busy pursuing pleasure – so busy enjoying luxury – that they failed to recognize impending conflict.
Had they been paying closer attention, the United States, Canada, Britain and France would have seen that
Germany’s defeat in World War I,
their subsequent loss of economy,
the forced restrictions on their military
and eager for retribution.
Enter Adolf Hitler.
His vitriolic dreams of tyrannic control played right into Germany’s helplessness.
The Allies celebrated their success in Jazz Age luxury. Soldiers became writers, fathers, and Jitterbug dancers. Victorious couples, families, and countries poured every ounce of energy into hedonistic pleasure. They assumed the enemy could never possibly recover and regroup from their losses.
Meanwhile, the Nazis carefully, consistently, and relatively unwatched, prepared for war.
It’s not so different today.
Luxury demands more luxury. Suffering teaches us how to fight.
Consequently, when those of us used to fighting are presented with respite, we don’t know what to do with it at first.
We might ask other people.
Their advice will likely be something along the lines of enjoy yourself, get some ‘you’ time in, make yourself happy, have fun.
And while all of those things are good things, we can easily get tricked into thinking that rest is all about us, or worse, that we were only ever meant to rest.
Summer is just around the corner.
(we hope, British Columbia, we hope)
Many of us are right this moment planning excursions, camps, vacations, and other pleasures, all of which are good things, but
if we aren’t careful
we might forget that
it is not pleasure that will anticipate the season to follow.
Only the building of defenses prepares for a future war.
To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour. – Winston Churchill
So while I could complain about the re-emergence of nasty chemo side effects, while I could languish on the couch with my Benadryl and Kleenex, while I could whine about nasty water retention and crazy headaches and nausea and all those things that are mildly unpleasant, deep down I know:
Perhaps these minor discomforts are signs that a bigger war is going on.
despite what we’re conditioned to think,
some wars are good wars.
Some enemies we should not submit to.
Some battles we need to fight.
So while we enjoy our season – we hope – of peace,
let’s not just let rest happen.
(Here’s the thing: It won’t.)
Carve it out.
Don’t just have nothing to do. Practice the art of stillness.
Don’t just hang out with friends. Practice real community.
Don’t just go on vacation. Practice adventure.
Don’t just watch a funny movie. Practice the discipline of choosing to laugh.
Rest is just another season; it too will end.
And when it does, you’ll need all the things you learned in peacetime.
Anyone can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week. – Alice Walker.