(The Hamilton Spectator, Saturday Sept. 2, 2017)
So, my children, like children everywhere, are about to return to school.
This brings some uncertainties. It’s my children’s first-ever September back-to-school in Canada.
More so, I’ll need to work at having more JFKs again.
Before I explain what a JFK is, let me say that in support of my children’s return to school, I support public schooling, private schooling, Catholic schooling, voucher-system schooling, religious schooling, dog schooling, all schooling, really, except home schooling because this interferes with my JFKs.
My children know this, even as my oldest, Elizabeth, who is now starting high school, knows about an old, recurring dream of mine about my own high school.
In this dream I’d always be stuck in the joint. There I am in the school halls, wandering, unable to find my class or even the building’s exit. The washroom with toilets – always a dangerous place to visit while dreaming – seems near enough. But I’m otherwise circling and lost in the absurdity of it all.
I suspect that the dream came my way for years because I, in fact, never completely finished high school. Then, after entering university as a so-called mature student, it took me two decades to finish my undergrad. At which time, I suppose, I was more mature.
Reporting and travelling always took priority and offered a different education, confirming what I recently read from a certain philosopher. The philosopher, a professor, theorizes that what many people actually want in life is more, not less, complexity.
They want to be more harried. More hassled. They want to be impossibly busy with work. Or with anything else. They (we) actually want what we complain about.
Why? Because if we had gobs of leisure time (remember that old utopian promise?) then we’d be forced to look closer inside ourselves, and listen, and see the great gaping hole in our inner heart, and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.
Of course, you can never be sure what wobbly things universities might teach these days. But the thoughtful professor’s point lines up with my own observation that many of the planet’s most rushed and stressed people live where? In the most affluent yet spiritless countries.
After all, there are cars and cottages and boats and investments and houses and plenty of this-or-that to chase. Then, once captured, there’s the upkeep. These are the worries of life, worries which have a profound ability to choke the oxygen out of you.
In Africa, all you need to worry about is your stool. This is a hyperbolic statement, I realize, but in my Uganda years I did find it far easier to have JFKs, while also learning that a simple stool can have a certain sacredness.
Sit on an African stool for long and be reminded that there’s a natural rhythm to life. A relaxed place of being. We’re human beings, after all, not human doings. Even the universe, creation itself, is never in a hurry. It slowly creaks along. “Here I am,” it says. “How can I expand myself today?” Maybe a star will be born. Maybe one will collapse.
Just like maybe a door will open, or close, in your vocational journey. My own entry into journalism 30 years ago was a falling more than anything, as unplanned as a young man turning a corner and falling into a manhole.
So work hard. Study hard. But don’t over-script (or overbook) your life. The world, in one sense, can get along fine without you. That’s why you’re made to sleep one-third of your life. It’s a daily reminder to let things go, that you have no choice, anyway.
As it is, researchers say that nightly we now sleep two full hours less than we did 100 years ago. All the more reason to slow things down. Have a nap. Regularly, like in kindergarten. No, really. Many greats did, including JFK. This is why in my family we call a simple nap, a JFK, a John F. Kennedy.
“Going for a JFK?” my children will ask. “Yes,” I’ll say.
Just not often enough. Because it’s not easy to stop. And rest. And listen. It’s time-consuming and hard work, too. But it’s good for the soul.