The Glory of Nothing
In the first blush of the season of Epiphany, I think I had one today.
I was talking to a friend on the phone last week. He said,
I’m not really enjoying work. My commute to D.C is a bear. My work life is winding down toward retirement. But what am I good at these days?
Well, I’m good at taking my two-hour walks around the lake. But—that’s hardly something that will get you another consulting contract.
Be like if I went in to meet with a CEO….
‘So what are your strengths?’
‘Well, sir, I’m really good at walking around the lake. I’m excellent at noticing the squirrels and the birds and the barren trees and the little ripples on the water.’
We laughed. None of that has any “value” and yet it was what he was drawn to, more and more.
I thought about those words, and what it feels like to “be good at” the little things, the things that don’t matter in the world, the things that can’t get us noticed or promoted.
Today I am reading one of those Christmas cards sent late.
As for me, I catch whiffs of a second childhood! I know wonder with pleasure at so many things: (“What is that whirly thing up on a pole”? “Why is that roof shaped like that?”) And recently, reclining regally in the recovery room after cataract surgery, I was absolutely delighted to be offered “saltines, grahams, or animal crackers.” Animal crackers! Of course! Then I had to bite my tongue to keep from calling out to all the other aging recoverees, “Did you choose animal crackers, too?”
It is the same theme. Noticing the whirly thing. Wondering about the shape of a roof. Exulting in the taste of an animal cracker, how it calls up a flurry of memories. Simply paying attention to “little things” can seem pointless, even silly. All the allegedly important people are noticing the bomb in North Korea, the knife-wielding terrorist in Paris shot dead, the angry mob in Oregon, Marco Rubio’s stack heel boots, and you? You are noticing the awesome markings on the tiger cat you have had for twelve years but never really seen until just now. All the key people are tweeting about Tom and Gisele’s new diet, and you? You are just noticing how the sun slants in the window, treating yourself to Now.
The spiritual life will always feel too ordinary, too plain, too drab. It will not seem exciting enough. Simply being will feel like a waste of time, like nothing is happening.
So we have to stick together, sisters and brothers, if we want to live a deeply human life. Very few people will encourage or support us in this life of simple being. The whole zeitgeist will blow us off the map. We have to be held in some community of love, where, if we tell someone about the shape of a roof or the color of lake water or the taste of an animal cracker, we can get a nod at least, a yes.