Learning to do nothing
“The devil makes work for idle hands,” was one of the maxims that governed my life in childhood years.
Not being a religious family, the devil was of little concern, but idle hands were a more serious matter. There was always a feeling of a need to be doing something, always a need to feel that times was being wisely spent. Perhaps it was logical, if time is the greatest gift in the universe, then to sit and do nothing is surely to waste it?
But might not the reverse be true? Perhaps time is wasted when every moment is filled with busyness, perhaps those who waste time are those who fill every hour of a diary and never stop to think. Perhaps there are conflicting views of the world. Perhaps, sometimes, the impetus to activity needs to to be counter-balanced with the a wish for time for reflection.
There is plenty I could be doing. Tomorrow is the last teaching day of the year, but there feels no sense of urgency to complete things.
Spring came early, and then stopped, and then started again; now there is abundant growth everywhere. There is still a chill in the air at night. It is 9 degrees according to the car thermometer. A wisp of smoke rises from the chimney of one of the houses of this smokeless zone.
It is the wisp of smoke that recalls Alexander McCall-Smith’s character Precious Ramotswe. Living in Botswana, that greatest of all African countries, Mma Ramotswe laments the European wish to be always doing something:
There was a slight smell of wood-smoke in the air, a smell that tugged at her heart because it reminded her of mornings around the fire in Mochudi. She would go back there, she thought, when she had worked long enough to retire. She would buy a house, or build one perhaps, and ask some of her cousins to live with her. They would grow melons on the lands and might even buy a small shop in the village; and every morning she could sit in front of her house and sniff at the wood-smoke and look forward to spending the day talking with her friends. How sorry she felt for white people, who couldn’t do any of this, and who were always dashing around and worrying themselves over things that were going to happen anyway. What use was it having all that money if you could never sit still or just watch your cattle eating grass? None, in her view; none at all, and yet they did not know it. Every so often you met a white person who understood, who realised how things really were; but these people were few and far between and the other white people often treated them with suspicion.
To sit and watch the day is a lost art.
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