Doing Nothing Well
Those who know me know I don’t do ‘nothing’ well. As in sitting around, doing nothing.
So when my husband and I got invited to spend a weekend north of San Francisco with friends, I thought Bring it on! I began plotting how I was going to cram each hour of each day so full of activities that there wouldn’t be a single dull moment. So I fired off a few questions… is there a golf course, tennis court, nearby shopping, and how nice is the swimming?
There was a tennis court but it was overgrown with trees in the forest. A golf course and shopping were hours away. Swimming would be in the Pacific, which as a balmy 8 degrees and known to be inhabited by great whites. The packing list called for a tuque and a heavy windbreaker…that’s about it.
Our destination: Bolinas, California. Hard place to find. Apparently residents take a dim view of tourists. So whenever the Dept of Highways puts up a road sign for Bolinas, locals hop in their VW microbus and tear it down. Residents swelled with pride when the New York Times labeled Bolinas the ‘Howard Hughes of towns’. All of which is OK if you can navigate your way with directions like ‘veer left at Zen temple’ or ‘hard right at the hemp farm’.
So, we wended our way up through the hills on switchback roads, finally emerging onto coast and the most dramatic meeting of land and sea I can remember. Somehow the 14 of us made it to our remote enclave that afternoon, where we reunited in a gale that would have made Sir Francis Beaufort smile.
I took a quick inventory: middle of nowhere; dead cell phone; limited amenities. My mind was racing. Maybe Andy had secretly lured me into some kind of California cult? Then as we bellowed our greetings I noticed a big black raven peering ominously down from a sheltering pine. It made me think of that poem by Edgar Allen Poe, and a nattering bird, and some person who was hopelessly trapped…like they didn’t have email or access to a tennis court.
Yes, I admit my imagination was getting the better of me. And right about then someone placed a glass in my hand and told me to drink. I warily raised it to my lips – was I about to be inducted into one of those California Cults? I took a small sip – a nice crisp Chardonnay! Now that is an indoctrination I can handle!
It occurred to me how remarkable this was: how we all managed to take five days out of our hectic lives for no reason other than to rekindle friendships. Imagine flying from New Zealand for the long weekend? That is just what Peggy and Dave did. It piqued my curiosity to think just how far we had collectively travelled. So I grabbed my calculator, called up Google maps and figured it out: 105,116 km of air travel alone! Al Gore and carbon footprints aside, that says something about the power of friendships, not to mention the utility of frequent flier points.
Still it remained to be seen how group dynamics would work. Many had known each other pretty much their entire live while others among us were relative newcomers. Odds were that this reunion of long lost pals could end up turning into one of those jaunts down memory lane where you hear endless tales of youthful bravado like Springsteen laments in ‘Glory Days’.
But you know, that isn’t how it went. If fact the stories shared were very much in the present. Many were to do with teens and coping with their inevitable shenanigans, or health issues or ageing parents. It was therapeutic to realize that we weren’t alone in our challenges.
At the same time it served a stark reminder that life is racing by. For one our kids are now old enough to push a whole new set of parental buttons – understandable since we are the ones who installed them. But as kids seek new experiences and pass new milestones so frequently, it reminds us that time is accelerating as the years pass by.
While Steven Hawking has theories on the space-time continuums, for me having a weekend like this was an opportunity to slow time down just a little. We had no set agenda. There was no phone or internet to distract. Instead we had the time to breathe deep, read a book, and walk for miles at our own pace, having the conversation we chose to have: simple pleasures that are often lost or forgotten in our daily routine. Pleasures that, on reflection, are what make any day that much more meaningful and important.
I guess what comes clear is that as we age we tend to see similarities in others rather than the differences. Not sure what it is – wisdom, compassion or just being more open. Suddenly conversations on the beach or over a long lazy dinner are more impactful and authentic.
As is often said, life is about the journey, not the destination. It is about the memories and shared experiences, not the things we collect or acquire. Turns out what I enjoyed most was not being in a rush to get to the next activity. Sitting at my perch high above the beach staring out onto the Pacific was everything I could ask for. You could enjoy it alone or use it to inspire conversation with the people who mean so much to you.
As Woody Allen says Ninety percent of life is just showing up. So when the call comes to spend time with people who you love, respect and admire, be sure to show up. Don’t sweat if the golf is sub par or the shopping second hand, or the waters shark infested. Just ask a simple question – are these people I can be happy doing nothing with?
All in all, I did doing nothing very well, thank you very much. Call it my career best.