It is my good fortune to enjoy 10 weeks of vacation during the summer months, and while I was quite busy with events and explorations for the first seven weeks this summer, the final three have hit me like a tropical storm and knocked me out. The sheer luxury of not feeling compelled to make the best use of my time has rendered me somewhat useless at times. This lack of compulsion has liberated me from responsibilities for the first time in what may have been decades of dutifulness.
The need to feel productive and useful seems for many to be a plague of the human condition, myself included. When, before now, have I ever decided to lay down and read during the ripeness of midday? Instead of planting new seedlings in my garden, I picked and gorged on handsful of poha berries off the vine. My cat has enjoyed more spontaneous cuddling than usual. I’ve seen friends for walks and tea, swam at my favorite beach, and lingered over spacious and meandering dinner conversations.
I measure the value of such leisure in degrees of downtime. How many degrees south of a painted shed is a swim with turtles? At least a day’s rejuvenation can be gained, as well as a sparkling outlook on the potential of a more well-balanced life, and alas a vision of what and who I can become in a time of life that allows more opportunity to play, explore, frolic, or do absolutely nothing, and not feel an iota of guilt about it. A return to the wonder of childhood, when I didn’t worry about how productive I was on the weekend. And when I really look at it, childhood felt very productive.
As a ten-year old, I recall disciplining myself to get up in the early morning before the rest of the family had stirred, to practice guitar before getting distracted or involved in other things. And often, purposeful backyard play yielded such benefits as small pools dug in the bare dirt corner where nothing would grow, or “motorhomes” built out of cardboard boxes atop our (yes) “little red wagon”. Our treehouse was decorated with branches and blossoms, and picnics were laid out with meticulous aesthetic attention. Play dates with neighbor kids were planned without the intervention of well-intentioned parents, and an all-day Saturday hiking excursion with a friend to a nearby grassy overlook at the top of the neighborhood hill became a lesson in bird-watching as well as planning and organization.
This morning, on one of the regrettably infrequent occasions I make my way to that favorite swimming beach, I encountered two sea turtles. I hadn’t seen any the last few times I swam. Time of day makes a difference. It’s always more common to see them at feeding time, which seems often to be late in the day, but in fact may be all day. My usual pattern is to look briefly and swim on, making an effort not to straddle, pursue, ride, harass, harm, or otherwise disturb, as we’ve so often been reminded. But something in their movements made me stop. I just stopped moving and watched as one nearly my size from head to tail, and then a juvenile half its size floated to within inches of my horizontal body, just underneath me, so that it was nearly impossible to move without disturbing or harassing. I waited. And watched.
Turtles do move slowly. And gracefully. Nothing about their movements appears hurried, harried, or worried. Compared to my laps back and forth across the cove, their swims seem relaxed and remarkably without any hint of frenzy, even with a human swimmer hovering just above them. Signs and symbols only hold the meaning we assign to them, but if these turtles were in fact a sign for me, the message was clear: It’s all good. It will all be there. And it will wait for you. Take your time.