There is a river alongside our town. I say that because I am sitting on a park bench with a view of that river. I say, view, though in fact, the scrub trees right in front of me have obscured most of that panorama. The river appears before me in isolated patches, like scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a green tabletop. But despite that, and despite the unnatural briskness of this late May day, I have chosen this bench to start my yearlong search for an inner quietude, a deeper connection to the moment, to open my eyes to the world around me. And to still the inner yammering.
I’ll explain more as I go along, but here’s my intent: to choose a bench once a week and spend at least fifteen minutes on it. Some people set lofty goals for a series of challenges — climbing all the peaks of a mountain range, running in so many marathons, cooking through Julia Child’s masterwork. Me? I want to sit down. In a whole bunch of places. How’s that for challenging?
But in a way, it is a great challenge, not only for me, but for most of us. We take great pride in our busyness, bragging in the guise of complaining about how little time we have. How early we have to wake. How late we’re forced to stay up. It’s a modern asceticism. We live in an odd age that give us more leisure time than ever before and such unsatisfied lives. For me, I’ve found a new surplus of time — now that my career has stabilized and kids are, for the most part, grown. In this new stage of life, I am struggling to find something to fill those spare ours that counts, which is not how I’d describe repeatedly beating Norm at Scrabble on my kindle. But as I’ve contemplated what to do, I’ve resisted the idea to plunge into some new activity. I need to tap into a bigger purpose.
There is a bigger purpose — a plan that I know quite well. But it’s too much “out there” and too little “in here.” In a way, it’s like the river. Living in a river town, we are all aware of its proximity, but rarely do we slow down enough to see it. It’s like the friends I used to have who said, “We’re just glad to know you’re out there.” Not enough to get together, mind you. Just enough to grow warm fuzzies.
Coming back to my surroundings, I find a telling irony that I’m sitting here, legs outstretched, back against the hard wooden slats, having made the trek to actually watch the river roll by — and I can hardly see it. There are too many things in the way.
And that is precisely why I’m going to start sitting on benches.