Wer rastet, rostet! – German saying
(Whoever rests, rusts!)
The Germans may be industrious, but we Americans are driven. Just before Christmas I read a Texas preacher’s blog entry in which he quoted an author’s observation of how Americans like to push themselves past burnout and then spend a weekend on the couch in a stupor, recovering just enough to return to the burnout track on Monday. The author, in contrast, had fled to Italy after a painful divorce, seeking to do nothing, and enjoy it, as her path to recovery. She took a Sabbath to restore herself from depletion.
I left a comment that it must be nice to fly off to Europe to rest, but unfortunately after my divorce I have bills to pay and children to raise. But right then I was nearly tapped. Most days I was spent before the work day was done. After work, some nights I heated up an easy dinner, ran to whatever commitment I had that night, and sat there in a fog. The remaining nights I picked up my children, pushed myself to make dinner and do dishes, and then slumped into my recliner and stared blankly at the TV while my sons played or watched with me. I knew I needed to rest, but I was out of vacation time at work.
I had to do something, so I backed out of my standing Tuesday night commitment so I’d have one night a week at home alone. I also decided not to take on any new commitments for a few months. It didn’t help. I still felt like I was running hard most of the time, and I was using my Tuesday nights alone to catch up, not rest. Little home maintenance jobs were piling up. I was on a project at work that frustrated me so much that I found it hard to get out of bed and make it to work on time. I turned to escape, staying up late watching TV or surfing the Net. Getting less sleep made things worse.
Then a few weeks ago I woke up one frigid morning to find my bathroom pipes frozen. My kitchen pipes worked, so I brushed my teeth over the kitchen sink. I managed to drop my contact lens there, though. I searched everywhere for it, including taking the pipes under the sink apart, but it was just gone. So I found my glasses – so old they make me dizzy if I wear them more than a couple days – and headed out to buy something that would thaw my pipes. At Menards, I slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot, breaking a rib. Then, in pain, I spent two hours under my house wrapping a heating element around my pipes. It didn’t work, so I drove to Wal-Mart and bought an electric space heater and installed it under the house by the frozen pipes. It worked in no time. But then I had to make an emergency appointment with an optometrist to get a new lens, which set me back $150. Meanwhile, I lost most of a day of work on that frustrating project, and its deadline wasn’t relaxing on my account.
That day took all of the energy, patience, and good humor I had left. When I returned to work, I found my already thin patience with the project to be worn through. I kept to myself to avoid saying something I might regret, except for seeing my boss to tell her that when the project ended, I needed to take the two vacation days I had accumulated.
I took the days around a three-day holiday weekend for five days away. I thought I might catch up on my backlog of minor home repairs, clean the house thoroughly, bathe the dogs, look at my taxes. But I lacked the energy and desire to work. I slept ten hours a night. I read. I napped. I watched the entire DVD set of Emergency!, season four. I surfed the Net.
I did take a day trip. The dogs and I drove down to Madison on the Ohio River. I walked the dogs through Madison’s early-1800s downtown, watching the people and enjoying the architecture. Then we followed the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s, back home. Much of the route is a US highway today, but a couple long segments are just old country roads. We crossed two one-lane 1800s stone bridges on the route. The one in the photo seemed to be miles from anywhere. I hadn’t encountered a car since I turned off the highway, and wouldn’t encounter another one until I rejoined the highway 20 miles later. The dogs were napping in the back of my little wagon, tired from their walk. I was alone on the old road, taking my time, enjoying the quiet. I could feel my heart beating in my chest just a little bit faster, as it does sometimes when I find joy.
Today is the last day of my five-day break. I’ve done a little housework, and I went to see a movie, but otherwise I’ve relaxed and written this. I’ve regained some peace and I’m better rested. I think if I took another week off I could have my energy back, and if I took a month off I could have my spirit back, but since it will take months to save that kind of vacation time there will be no fallow season for me. When I go back to work tomorrow, at least I won’t be running on empty. But I want to keep it that way. I think I will plan a couple more long weekends in the spring, and a full week off this summer when my sons are here, as time to rest and take a couple short road trips just for the enjoyment. If I’m to rust, so be it.