In Praise of a Wasted Day

We had ridden over all his farm
Along field edges, through the woods
In search of ripe, wild fruit, and found
None for all our pain, and yet
“We didn’t find what we were looking for,”
Said Arthur Rowanberry, pleased,
“but haven’t we seen some fine country!”
Wendell Berry, This Day, p. 296

We live in a very goal-oriented world. I need to prepare a lecture for class. Grade a pile of essays. Walk 10,000 steps. Get groceries. Make dinner. Sweep floors. Mow the yard. And that’s just the beginning.

Our lives are directed by to-do lists and calendars and productivity apps. I don’t wake with the sun but with a clock. And the things invented in this world to serve me have become my masters.

Sometimes, I fear that I have mistaken crossing something off my list for life. Because the point of life is not to be productive. This is not to say that productivity is bad. My students deserve to have their papers graded.

But that’s not what I live for.

In fact, the more a task can be labeled, “productive” perhaps the more life-draining it is.

Sometimes I go to the library to do a little research and run across a book that has nothing to do with the project, and before I know it, I’ve “wasted” an hour or two enchanted with it.

Or I march out of the office to get some steps in, and I bump into a friend, and we talk under the clock tower for a long, long time.

Perhaps life is what happens to us when we are not being productive. So maybe when someone asks, “What did you do today?” The best answer is, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Or better yet, maybe we need to recognize the value in “wasting time.”  Now, when someone asks us about our day, rather than rattling off the to-do’s we accomplished, we say,

“I wandered down a path to a bridge where I watched the water splash over the boulders. Then I saw a hawk in a tree staring at me, so I stared back. We stood for a long time looking at each other, until a heard a screech far off. Perhaps his mate.

He didn’t budge.

I then walked to an oak tree and sprawled underneath it. When I closed my eyes, I heard all kinds of sounds. The birds were being especially noisy, and I wondered how it was possible for all their songs to harmonize with one another.

Eventually, I sat up to watch the sky turn different colors as evening approached. I noticed that after the sun dipped below the horizon the air smelled different, like sage and straw.

Then I waited for the first star to come out—just because I wanted to know the exact moment when night began.”

See, now that’s a day to live for.


Photo Credit: Susan Pigott

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