Last Friday I returned to my rooms at the end of the work day, fed the cat, and settled on the couch in the sitting room. I arranged a throw over my legs, leaned my head back, and for the next two hours I did not move. My eyes closed, I did not actually sleep but I was not my normal conscious self. I let go of Friday evening tasks. Dinner might or might not happen. Twenty-four hours had now passed since a work event for the smooth execution of which I had been – once more – successfully responsible.
Each work year brings these events for which a two- and sometimes three-month set of deadlines prepares. After years in this job, I no longer consciously acknowledge the stress of reaching each event and providing my supervisors the assurance that all will go well. It always does go well, and everyone involved in our work attends and witnesses and – often – gives the thumbs up to me at the conclusion.
On this Friday evening, however, after weeks and weeks of telling my body and my mind what was important, I let them tell me what was important:
1. I had received a gift that week.
2. I had also received a thank-you note for a gift I had given.
3. I had managed to read a short story in French.
4. I had cooked fish fresh from the grocer's.
The experience of according the achievements of the preceding week what I can only call heart-space was moving in those two hours of drifting consciousness.
Granted – cooking fish and reading a short story in French are not the stuff of eloquent personal testimony. They represent, however, I eventually sensed lying back on the couch Friday evening, the end result of choices made over the years to be someone with a particular history.
The thank you note came for a wedding gift I had given. Two academics, the bride and groom may not have needed another blanket, another set of salad bowls, another vase. The husband’s position in the classics department of a local university suggested that I locate vintage editions of a Latin poet. Pervigilium Veneris came up online in three fine editions, each with an English translation. The thank you note acknowledged the distinct and unexpected pleasure my two friends had taken reading aloud and comparing the translations.
And the gift I received? A package containing three jars of homemade tomato sauce from a restaurant to which a friend has regularly taken his parents over the years. The hometown Italian restaurant had been the setting for a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration for his parents January last year. This January the family had convened again in the private dining room for the meal after his father’s funeral. One of the three jars is a puttanesca sauce, my friend’s choice, he informed me, on both of those occasions.
Galloping through a busy week, I had reached last Friday evening ready to be reminded and surprised afresh by what an everyday life can feel like.
There are sources of renewal waiting all around us, I learned again, and sometimes even tucked inside, just waiting for us to relax.