I miss empty time. Those days in early childhood where hour after hour would stretch before me, almost menacing, without a task or duty assigned to fill it. I distinctively remember the angst that sometimes accompanied these days. The words “I’m bored” would slip out of my mouth, always followed by the threat;
“if you’re bored I can think of a few things you can do. ” And let me tell you, these were never fun things.
How little was I able to appreciate these long boring days full of empty hours, which could be filled or not, without consequences. The total lack of responsibility and duty that came with them. Nothing had to be achieved. Yet they came at a price. There was very little freedom to decide what to do with them. As a child you are at the mercy of others and their filled days. Their tasks and responsibilities take priority, and so much of that valuable time is wasted.
Then comes youth, and with it a certain awareness stirs within. Anxiety grows and impatience growls demanding that these empty hours be used wisely. We rebel against this waste, the extent of which probably neither child nor adult fully realize. Adults tell the young to be patient, that they have a whole life ahead overflowing with days to fill. But really, I think they are onto something. The window of opportunity to be free before life takes over is small. Very.
I remember when I first started working. I moved away from home leaving behind all my ties and responsibilities. I sacrificed some of my time to have enough money. Other than that my time was entirely mine. As long as the basic bills were paid everything was up in the air. I could shop, or just eat out. If I didn’t have to be at work I could be in Brazil or Africa, in rumba class of learning pottery. I could sleep in, eat late, eat out, in front of the TV. I could leave the dirty clothes on the floor, indefinitely, if I so wished. Whole afternoons were dedicated to the ritual practice of a late breakfast. I relished the ability to decide what I would be using my time for. My time. Yes, I had to go to the office, I had to pay the rent and buy some food. But in hindsight I see that these days were a gift, when the world was my oyster and everything was still possible.
Those years are long gone. Now my days look like a glass filled with milk to the rim, which is constantly overflowing onto the table. As soon as I’ve cleaned up one mess it’s overflowing again. Even days that are meant to be for rest, like weekends or holidays, their emptiness is only an illusion. A “lazy day” quickly becomes a day where you can focus on all the things that have been lagging on that to-do list. During the night, well earned rest is bullied away so that other things can get done. And that is if the “we are open” sign doesn’t have to go on because someone is sick or having a nightmare.
As a child and a teenager you long for the day when you will become an adult. The master of your fate, the captain of your soul. But the truth is that you are not. As an adult, you are anything but free. Tied to work, responsibilities, bills and relationships.
In the end freedom has turned out to be nothing like I imagined it. Nothing like the one I dreamed of in my youth, or read about in the books. That freedom now comes across as a very lonesome affair. It seems to me that anything worth having ties you down. I will even venture that to some degree, the more something is worth having, the more commitment it requires. And I’m not just referring to my kids, which demand with a capital D (and a capital E and M and … well, you catch my drift,) or the other obvious one, work, but even the little things we love and cherish, like writing or fishing, require time, money and commitment if you want to be any good at them. Even a spiritual trip to Bali or a hedonistic afternoon of drugs requires money, time and planning.
We are free to choose what we do. We are free to choose what we love, what defines us, who we are, and what will tie us down. But those empty days of wonder with no responsibility or consequence, that freedom exists but for a few years in our youth. Use them wisely.