In elementary school it was a common practice to task students with writing assignments. There was often the premise of critical thinking, but really it was about improving penmanship. When I was in school this generally was scheduled first thing in the morning. Bleary eyes would skim the chalkboard, half-heartedly pondering what the prompt was and despairingly glancing at the clock realizing how little time you had. Every year, without fail, questions like what did you do over the summer, or what happened over the weekend could be found elegantly written across the board. Those were the easy topics, right? Not really. I would much rather write about what I would do if I were a toaster for a day. Asking for a summary of a period of time outside of school always felt like a challenge, and you knew this would be the one that the teacher would want read to the class. It was so personal and opened you up to the scrutiny of your peers. I always wondered if my fellow classmates felt that moment of dread that often passed over me as I contemplated what to say.
Invariably, each student would latch on to that one crowning moment of their vacation and weave an elaborate “big fish”-esque story detailing their adventure. Let’s also not forget that one student who just won the day with their trip to Africa where they were chased by lions, or the sad sack who did nothing but watch paint dry all summer. In general though, everyone sort of fell into this middle ground with their recollections, they were exciting but nothing to outlandish; everyone stood out for their experience but also fit in because each person shared the concept of doing something noteworthy.
The irony of this situation is that, often, the conversations of weekend occurrences outside of the confines of the classroom were much bleaker. I can distinctly remember, on numerous occasions, a friend dramatically flopping to the floor despairing over how “boring” their weekend was and how they had done absolutely nothing. And of course, the group mentality would kick in and everyone would nod their heads affirmatively, agreeing to a lack-luster weekend existence. Ah, there is that “fitting in” again.
So which is it, a boring weekend or an adventurous one? Probably a little bit of both; chances are there were some bits of time that seemed to drag on endlessly, while others just flew by. So why then, when sharing pastimes, did it have to become such a theatrical affair? There was never any middle ground; it was an all or nothing moment, you either had a lot of fun or you had none at all.
Departing from those elementary school years, less and less is the word “exciting” used to recount an activity, instead it has been replaced with the word “busy.” There is this prestige that comes with this infamous word. Being busy means that you aren’t being lazy – and it is an all-consuming occupation. Much like the colorful recounts of pastimes in youth, busyness equals purpose and identity.
The stories told those earlier mornings in school were designed to impress peers, and solidify an identity – and it isn’t very different now. Busyness has become a way to define ourselves, to stand out as well as fit in. Very much in alignment with youth, there is this all or nothing mentality. We are so busy we are a million places a once and, at the same time, so busy that we can’t manage to get a single thing done. At some point being busy became so important that it outweighed everything in between. Much like how there was more to a teenage summer than the time your sibling was attacked by a seagull – there is so much more to life than what we consider our “crowning achievements,” or our perpetual busyness. Our lives are more than the moments that we feel others should define us by; and we are infinitely more intricate and valuable than any singular moment. Not everything we do has to have a pre-planned purpose, or be designed with the intention of building our social status.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about taking a day off, sitting down to read a book, or spend time with a friend. Those moments are just as important as the packed schedule that we throw ourselves into daily. Why? Because those moments are the breath of fresh air in the midst of the chaos we navigate day after day. Perhaps, in part, these moments are particularly wonderful because of precisely the fact that they aren’t a big deal. They aren’t designed to be advertised to the world, and there is something quite beautiful about that.
I think there is something to be said about living “in the moment” because to live in the moment means to make the most of that instant and experience it to the full. I don’t know about you, but I could use some work on appreciating the moment.
Here a couple snapshots of some particularly wonderful moments: