I haven’t had a break in nearly eight months.
Last year I dove into full-time seminary studies as well as full-time work. The overtime I’d banked from working during the Fort McMurray fire evacuation allowed me that. It wasn’t the ideal decision, but it was the most expedient one. I made sure, however, that I had no classes during December since that was when I would be snowed under with Christmas hamper campaigns as well as our regularly scheduled family support.
I was looking forward to two weeks off from work. The seminary’s J Term began sooner than work, however, so the break wasn’t as long as I needed it to be. And of course I would contract the flu over my few precious days off. I was exhausted and I couldn’t imagine negotiating the heaviest semester to come without proper rest. But it wasn’t meant to be.
I must have been doing something right because I kicked the flu soundly, all but for my breathing. When I finally went to the doctor, he confirmed that I’d had bona fide influenza (as opposed to the many other little viruses we attribute to the flu, but really aren’t), however the infection had moved towards my lungs and I’d developed bronchitis. Since the infection was viral, no antibiotics were needed but he did prescribe me a puffer and a nasal spray.
He also put me on bed rest.
Only…I had to leave for Saskatoon in three days. The doctor didn’t like the sounds of that.
But the Gospel of Matthew waits for no one, and I drove to Saskatoon propped upright by puffers, nasal spray, tea, and the promise of a warm bed once I’d reached my destination.
Thus set the pace for the past eight months: classes, work, classes, work, repeat. Recover as best as possible (when possible), repeat. Fly to Saskatoon instead of drive (because falling asleep at the wheel is not an incident to be repeated at any time). Move out of house of 11 years during huge spring snowstorm two weeks before the semester is over and move into parents’ one-room cabin. Complete semester, get laid off on the Friday, pack up things once again on the Saturday, move to Edmonton on the Sunday, hit the ground running for a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education on the Monday.
No sick days.
Since this was an intensive CPE unit, we were not allotted any designated sick time. Emergencies could never be foreseen, of course, and were supported as they arose. But for 11 weeks, there was no official time off.
I learned to keep up. I felt myself ease into the frantic pace, and managed to complete everything well (except Greek).
…now that it’s done, I don’t know what to do with myself.
I’m without paid work entirely. School hasn’t yet begun. I’m geographically isolated from most of the world.
My entire system has no idea what to do.
I wake up, but I am foggy as to why I’m getting up. Why do I need to? The reason simply isn’t there anymore. The energy is there because my body hasn’t caught up to the reality of the situation. I get up because my body is still trying to race at the pace of a freight train. I’m standing still — I know I’m standing still — but the force of will to “MOVE!” hasn’t ceased yet. And that will refuses to give itself time.
And yet time, it seems, is precisely what I have a lot of.
I never really know how much value I ascribed to my work. Whether it was at the Centre, at seminary, or during CPE. Work got me up; work instilled in me deep purpose; work gave me reason; work shaped me; work defined me; and work illumined me in so many ways.
And here now I have none.
And with such heavy emphasis on work shaping my entire life, it’s no wonder that I feel like I’ve jumped off that racing freight train into a wall of half-set jell-o. More than one person has said how jealous they are of me because I have the chance to “just be” (I’ll share with you another time my frustrated disdain for the word just).
I can possibly understand the jealousy and envy from someone needing a vacation.
But this is no vacation.
This is unemployment.
I have no income.
I miss my friends and co-workers very much, and this sudden halt to all of my work leaves me with that grief and loss with nothing else to distract me from it. I have no idea how I’m going to finance my life during the next year — no employer seems to want to hire a student who needs to be away at school half the time — and so life is going to be pared down to the immediate essentials only. The friends I do have are hundreds of miles away. It’s not like I can call someone up and go for coffee in twenty minutes. Even if I could, I have to factor in gas money. Getting anywhere from here will cost me. I don’t begrudge it in the least. But it’s a factor I must consider whenever I pull out of the driveway.
Trust me, this is no vacation.
The mornings are the hardest. I have to convince myself that there are valuable reasons to get up. I really do need to practice my Greek; my parents could use extra help hauling in ripening berries, chopping wood, or other necessary tasks; and I need to prepare for my first wedding coming up in August. There are things to do.
Yet they seem so hard to engage in considering all that I’ve lost as well as the crazy pace I was maintaining for almost a year. It’s as if I’m perpetually dizzy. I can’t find my feet. And when I can’t find my feet, I can’t step forward to find my way.
The late evenings are the most powerful. I walk back to the cabin, get changed, and climb into the bed that was built beside the window. I pull the little curtain across the other side so I’m closed into my own little cocoon. Suddenly my frantic world is much smaller, much safer, much quieter.
I sit at the window and stare out in the dark forest. Looking up, I can still see brightness in the skies even if it’s past midnight (a gratifying wonder living further north). I leave the window open and fall asleep to the sounds of frog song, hooting owls, rain on the roof and the leaves, or the wind through the trees. No A/C unit or white noise machine can compare to this kind of healing and restoration. I wake up to the same cool gentleness blowing through the window.
They aren’t reasons to get up, but they are small little nudges.
It’s true that practicing biblical Greek or picking berries won’t pay me a dime. But perhaps purpose can be found here too. Perhaps the total removal of pace will give me space to better enter the mysteries of God knowing that my entire survival will depend on grace, mercy, and hospitality this year.
For now, I need to give myself the time I need to find a gentler pace. It won’t happen overnight. It often feels like it needs to happen straightaway because the hectic schedule of last year and during CPE offered the illusion that when I stopped (as stop I would eventually would), I could flip a switch and rest.
Such an illusion.
Rest demands a drunken movement from work towards sabbath. It is a wobbly, imperfect walk as one might feel walking off a boat back on to dry ground. I can’t simply ‘rest and be’. Being demands rest, and rest demands patience and time to catch up with myself.
So here I am in this thin space — this time between times — when the work that I do is not the work that I had, when the pace that I kept is not the pace of life around me presently.
But when it all overwhelms me, I can be assured that tonight I will have my little space in bed by the window.
Who knows who I’ll see out there?