Monday, April 29, 2013

Our Magnificent Boredom

Last week was a gift here in the Pacific Northwest. Warm, bright blue skies, lilacs in fragrant bloom, a light breeze: an early week of summer, one the likes of which we didn't experience until mid-August last year. 

Our 5's class normally spends a little over half its days outdoors. Last week we elected to spend our entire days out there. No one appreciates a sunny day like us mildewy Northwesterners. When I worked at the chamber of commerce, the offices would more or less clear out around lunchtime and stay that way on days like these, most of us claiming an afternoon meeting out of the office that would run late enough that it didn't make sense to return to the office. Of course, we all knew where everyone was, out there in a patch of sun, and we all let one another off with their little lies without even a wink.

Lazy joy! The running around was half-hearted. None of us wanted to let one moment of our day go by unappreciated, so we slowed way down, all of us. We were together in shorts and sun dresses for the first time in months, feeling almost scanty with our bare arms, legs and toes, Huckleberry runaways, with dirt under out nails, a bit of something in our hair, and the often clearer perspective of youth. 

Oh, we're the ones who know how to play in the damp, windy cold: that we do with aplomb for most of the year. But days like these: they play with us. There was Cooper over there, in a chair, his journal on a knee as he drew a detailed illustration with ballpoint pen, feet rested on an edge of the table, his head in the sun, while his body rustled with dappled shade. 

There were none of those wild good guy-bad guy games we've had so much of this year, while around the workbench was a casual congress of chatty machine dismantlers, taking their time removing parts that we would later use to repair our robot. Another group gathered in the shade with large paint brushes and rollers -- house painting tools -- methodically making a pastel masterpiece of the door that most recently hung on our new play house. There was much discussion, but no resolution, about whether or not it would go back on its hinges or just serve as a piece of art. The day gave us permission to leave the question hanging, showing us the folly of our usual rah-rah urgency to resolve things.

People who live in places where almost every day is like this simply cannot fathom the giddy happiness we people of the dark and damp experience when we get even one day like this, let alone a run of them in mid-April. We got sunburned. We purchased new sunglasses and promptly lost them. We continued to wear our shorts and sandals even when temperatures dropped down into the low 50's at night.

The nation of Bhutan uses a measurement it calls Gross National Happiness (GNH) to assess it's national well-being. I love this idea, even while recognizing the challenge of really measuring what we call happiness. But I sure love that Bhutan seriously tries, basing its government's 5-year planning upon certain psychological and social indicators to try to get at the overall "satisfaction" of the people. Critics complain that it's an inexact, subjective kind of measure, too reliant upon the vagaries of self-reported happiness, and the fact that it can never be used to accurately compare nation-with-nation given cultural differences, expectations, and definitions of happiness. If Seattle were surveyed last week, our self-reported happiness would indeed be through the roof.

Of course, who cares, right? If I'm self-reporting as "happy," does it matter if my happiness can be judged against the happiness of another, be they my countryman or not? If I'm not so happy, I'm not so happy. If I'm happy, I'm happy. It's not a comparative statement, but always a purely subjective one. GNP will always be an averaging of subjective reporting, data created by unique individuals, each of whom has her own criteria, some of whom are happier on a sunny day than those who live in places where it's commonplace.

It's not that the clouds and rain depress us, I don't think, at least those of us who've been here for a long time, but rather that when sky opens, clean, so blue it hurts your eyes to look at it, inviting us to expose our pasty skin, we're all simultaneously filled with an appreciation, a gratitude, and even a love. And that's what lies at the bottom of all happiness. When the sun shines in Seattle, we don't have to count our blessings, they count us. There is no better place to be than amongst these truly happy people, moving slowly, appreciating every blessed moment.

Up under the cedars, we wove a plank between our two swings, inventing a kind of front porch swing upon which we idled for awhile side-by-side. We hung there, barely swinging, chanting together, "Blah, blah, blah, blah. This is boring. Blah, blah, blah, blah. This is boring . . ." loving ourselves and one another and our magnificent boredom.

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Anonymous said...

Lovely! Makes me want to get outside....

Barbara Zaborowski said...

While we are getting to the point where we'll need to cut down our outside time...*sigh*