One hot day this past August we attended the christening of our grandson Henry at a beautiful, little chapel called St. Aidan’s in South Dartmouth. The ceremony was simple, few in number, and as the minister read the passages, it was clear that 3-month-old Henry held court through an echoing and commanding bout of hiccups. Undaunted and perhaps always on the lookout for those very human times in life, the minister, in her words to us, commented on how Henry actually already had the world right, that he was blissfully living in the moment, that he hiccupped with full abandon and that there was nothing but him and those good, good hiccups. She then reminded us all that being in the moment is a precious thing and that in our agenda-driven world and in our own self-made urgency, we rarely think about being in the moment, about just being there, hiccupping or not.
I’ve thought a lot about her words as we begin another year and face that sometimes-epic calendar we know as school. And it seems to me that her good message of “in the moment, deeply and freely,” is a sort of summoning to rethink and maybe even to redesign the way in which we walk through this year. What would it take to pause and do a little reflection, to not be thinking of what is next on the agenda in the midst of what we are doing? What would it mean to model for our children, our students, more of a targeted attention, more of a surrendering, more of a possible opening for something about which you never even dreamed.
It won’t be easy to take the reins from our agenda-driver. And it will be a herculean effort for us to stop ourselves from loving our own busyness. We worship busyness, and by doing so fail to recognize the emptiness that often comes along for the ride. We actually attribute value to busyness, and you can hear this throughout the day in our School and in our lives. “I am a member of five clubs and the leader of two of them.” “I wish I could join you, but my calendar is so booked and there are no free zones.” “How are you? I’m so busy.” Somewhere we have confused being busy with being of importance, and I’m wondering whether, at the end of the day, we don’t also sacrifice depth and even pleasure at busyness’s altar. We get a lot done, perhaps, but do we understand anything more or differently? Have we found some joy in the day?
And here’s the thing. You don’t need much to fall into reflection, into just being. Something larger than you is always out there waiting for you no matter where you are. And the practice of not rushing, of not leaping from one thing to the next, gives you two gifts: the ability to really see and not just look and the ability to lose that awkward self-consciousness that is masterful at holding you back from almost anything. Imagine the imaginative space we could all find in spending only a fraction of our day in deep thought.
Notice, too, that this kind of reflection does not include hand-held devices of any order. It has nothing to do with “likes,” “followers” or messaging. It has nothing to do with the abbreviated language of quick responses or with the pictures you may be taking of the dessert you are about to devour. It has everything to do with only the space you are in. What would happen if we pledged just half an hour a day to be cellphone free and appointment free? What would happen if we swore to a dinner hour with nothing at the table but our dinners and our families? What would change in our lives if every day we sought the beauty of art or nature surrounding us, not because it was assigned but because it was there and so were you?
So Henry, back at that chapel, had an advantage over us all. He didn’t know that appointments and commitments command the day. He just knew that hiccupping was good, and there to celebrate his life, we knew that they sounded particularly charming in a small chapel. That, I think, is what the minister meant. We all stopped, listened to the hiccups and fully took in the joy of that moment: that unplanned for and delightful moment. Poet Natasha Trethewey, writing about looking ahead, named tomorrow as “the bowl I have yet to fill.” I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to think of tomorrow as the bowl to be filled not just with busyness but also with the space and time to only imagine what might go in it. And instead of wishing me good luck with that, why don’t you join me? Happy New Year to you all: I wish you many wonderful hiccup moments to come.