Il dolce far niente (The sweetness of doing nothing)
I truly hope that you and your family are keeping well as you self-isolate during this time. And if you are, I hope you're giving thanks for
- your health
- your home, which shelters you and your family
- the many essential workers that keep medical and other necessary services functioning
- your ability to remain connected with others, online if nowhere else.
Impatient and in a hurry
Right now, you may be missing a lot of things: your church, your gym, your children's school, your favorite restaurant, your office camaraderie, the trip you had to postpone or even cancel. You can't go where you usually go or do what you usually do. And it's easy in such circumstances to feel impatient or morose, to just want to hurry through this time and get back to "normal" life.
Yet we don't want to simply waste these days. We don't want to just hurry through life to get to a different time or circumstance, do we?
Oh, wait a minute... maybe we do. Isn't that the way we usually behave?
We tend to focus on the big events.
Holidays, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, promotions, and trips command our attention. As we finish one big project, we immediately dive into planning for the next one.
When I look at my family photo albums, I see evidence of all of those special times. But some of my favorite photos and memories are the ones I took on "nothing special" days. Pictures of:
- my kids playing with leaves in the back yard
- my dad sitting on a park bench holding my daughter's doll because she's gone to play
- my two kids holding hands as they walk away from me on a trail through the woods near their grandparents' house
No hoopla, just normal events of a normal life. But they bring a smile to my face.
A reader recently commented that one of my old posts, "Una Bella Vita," is a favorite inspirational re-read. (Thank you, anonymous commenter; you really gave me a lift!) This reader prompted me to go back and look at this post myself, and I was struck by the following section which seems to apply to our situation today:
... [the Italian] concept that seems truly foreign to Americans: il dolce far niente, "the sweetness of doing nothing." It refers to the ability to focus on, enjoy, and completely bask in a moment without multi-tasking or being in a hurry to move on to the next thing. You're not wallowing in FOMO, obsessing about your to-do list, or numbing your thoughts with TV. Instead, you're entranced by a sunset, savoring a juicy peach, or gently rocking your infant son who has fallen asleep on your shoulder.
As Britain's Queen Elizabeth recently said, "[T]hough self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation."
Perhaps you're feeling isolated, even bored, while you're at home. I admit that for me, Easter Sunday without a beautiful, music-filled, exhilarating church service followed by a family celebration is unprecedented, and feels a bit empty.
But if we find no pleasure at all in our day-to-day chores and projects, if we cannot savor the sweetness of having less to do or fewer places to rush off to, if we find no joy in simply talking, listening, cooking dinner, taking a walk, reading a book, creating something, or just putting our feet up, then we're going to be just "getting through" an awful lot of time. Time which all of the essential workers, braving the risks so that services we need are up and running, might love to have.
Life is the day-to-day stuff.
The special events are wonderful, and of course we want to anticipate, enjoy, and remember them too. But it seems much smarter to appreciate life every day than to just plod through it, waiting for the next big excitement. No Disney cruise or gala social event makes up for a cruddy everyday life.
So I challenge you: Just for a while, think only about today.
- Think about the jobs you'll do, and be glad you have jobs to do. Enjoy your abilities and competence as you do them. Find ways to improve your skills if you can.
- Appreciate the people you'll encounter in your home, at the grocery, on the phone, or online. As much as it depends on you, make those encounters pleasant.
- Enjoy the beauty you can see and hear and taste and touch and smell. Don't miss any of it.
My best wishes to all of you.
Updated March 2023