It has been a difficult week at EBL Towers. I had taken a lengthy break over Christmas and New Year so I thought I was ready to go back to work. It was with some surprise that I found myself on my first day at the desk sitting and having a minor panic attack. I was tearful and felt sick and couldn’t concentrate. I girded my loins and by the end of the day I had wrangled that inbox into submission and felt like the very gods. The next day I had to go to Head Office and while I was there had a catch up with my boss. I confessed how I had felt and she said she was already concerned I was not really right so I am taking a few days off to try and chill.
It seems appropriate to include this post under the alphabet project because for my last post I wrote somewhat from my heart about being Busy. I think I was already feeling the strain so today I am going to talk to you about chilling. There are times in our lives when we need to do so. In the past I have pushed on, feeling that stopping for exhaustion was a sign of weakness. Looking at that from the outside I have to say it seems an extraordinarily short-sighted attitude. Certainly if one of my team suggested it to me I would tell them not to be so foolish and to take a break. So now I am allowing myself the same luxury. Go me.
The thing about being busy is that it is value loaded. The Puritan work ethic means that sitting idly is synonymous with sin. So I see taking a break following a period of extreme busyness at work as a failure. In society we brand the unemployed as scroungers. Retired people are a drain because they do not “contribute”. Parents who work part time or stay at home are not committed enough or are not actually working: although I think a moment’s reflection will confirm that childcare is hardly a relaxing option. As Quakers we often feel guilty at not doing our bit, at failing to change the world, at being human. We are not alone in this. It is pre-programmed into our culture.
So I am taking a few days out.
At least I thought I was.
I got home from a site visit on Friday evening to find a letter from the hospital to say they had a slot for me next Wednesday for my shoulder operation (the one that was cancelled before Christmas because they were caught by surprise when more people got ill in winter).
Having spent a couple of days convincing myself it was acceptable to take time out and relax with some knitting and reading and films, I am now irritated to find my time is cut short and I have to sort out blood tests and arrange transport and complete various jobs in quite a limited timeframe. Well, woe is me.
I also have to admit to being a little anxious about the operation and worried about how I will manage in the immediate aftermath. Sigoth is of course primed and ready; when is he not? He will take me to the hospital at the crack of dawn and collect me the next day. He will look after me if I need help for as long as it takes (hopefully only a day or two before I can manage most things). He will be amazing.
I, on the other hand, will be a pain in the neck. I am a terrible patient, in that I am not patient at all. I will moan about the discomfort and try to do things I shouldn’t and whinge. I will get frustrated that I can’t turn somersaults and lift weights and conduct the London Symphony Orchestra with vigorous waves of my baton. I will discover a yen to practise semaphore and to walk on my hands as a matter of extreme urgency. I will generally complain and be even more unpleasant than usual to be around. Sigoth will manage perfectly well and tell me off when I get too silly and eventually the soreness will subside and all will be well.
Meanwhile tomorrow I have to clerk Preparative Meeting. It’s a Quaker thing, this business meeting, and a thing of beauty. I am not going to write about it here and now, but the Quaker business method is one of the things most worthwhile about the whole enterprise in my opinion. Nevertheless, preparing for it, doing it, and following it up are all potentially demanding tasks when one is not feeling completely on top of one’s game. Yet it needs to be done. It is another thing I have promised to do. Quakers are very keen on your yes being yes, and you no being no. So I will do this job at least.
None of this is chilled. None of it is reducing stress. It is teaching me that I have to slow down more emphatically. Rather than letting me get away with a week at home reading Neil Gaiman and knitting, all of which are things on a To-do list, I will learn enforced stillness, enforced patience, enforced gratitude for help and support. I have spent a half century learning the lesson of being busy and valuing activity. Now I have to learn dependency and patience and slowness.
It may make me a better person, if I am lucky and manage to take the lesson on board.
May you find times to be busy and times to be quiet.