Every Dec. 31st, we mark the minutes until midnight, measuring time by the teaspoon in a rapidly departing year. But on the last day of 2016, I was struck not by the passing of time but the illusion, however brief, of the clock standing still.
Except for a short visit to friends down the street, our family spent New Year’s Eve at home, doing nothing.
Rain hemmed us in, drumming the roof in a rhythm that lulled us into listlessness from dawn to dusk. Only after lunch did we remember that we were still in our pajamas, a problem that was, we decided, really no problem at all.
The fridge was full of holiday leftovers, and after a week of Christmas comings and goings, there was no other place to be but home.
With books piled like cordwood beside my armchair, I read by the rain-dappled window, our terrier wedged into the cushion, buried in the bliss of sleep.
Our Douglas fir, on its deathbed after a month of carrying Christmas on its branches, exhaled its last few breaths of perfume from the corner, dropping a few ornaments throughout the afternoon as its limbs sagged from age.
I thought of rising from my reading station and taking the tree down, then thought again. That chore would no doubt spawn another, the day depleted in a daisy chain of doing. Instead, I opted for sloth. A flourish of violins from the back bedroom told me my wife was doing the same. I assumed it was the soundtrack of a period romance, my wife’s favorite TV viewing on those rare days when the whirlwind of work and family leaves her alone for an hour or two.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day fell on a Saturday and Sunday this winter, the days set aside among Jews and Christians for their weekly Sabbaths. The sacred tradition honors the idea that rest and reflection should be a regular part of our lives, not an isolated indulgence just for special occasions.
But life doesn’t unfold that way for many of us. Even the weekends wear us down with emails, errands, lists of things to do. My armchair reading included these words from author Will Schwalbe: “We overschedule our days and complain constantly about being too busy; we shop endlessly for stuff we don’t need and then feel oppressed by the clutter that surrounds us; we rarely sleep well or enough … we bombard ourselves with video clips and instant messages; we even interrupt our interruptions … And at the heart of it, for so many, is fear — fear that we are missing out on something.”
What we are really missing out on, Schwalbe concludes, is the wisdom that can come from being still.
The holidays are over, and another busy year begins. But I will try, against the odds, to take Shwalbe’s advice to heart.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.