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Day 175: In Praise of Boredom

“All man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room.” ~Blaise Pascal

It is summer at last, the season of long lazy afternoons and empty idle hours of wonder. I remember well the endless afternoons of ice pops and sprinklers, taking long walks to see if anything interesting could be found in the neighborhood. This was well before the digital revolution and if you wanted to see a movie, you actually had to go to a theatre. These were the days when you knew the time and day of your favorite show, because that was the only time you could see it and summer was mostly reruns, anyway.

There are two kinds of boredom, the kind that is mind numbing, a close cousin of procrastination and disinterest in everything around you. This boredom is more like mental laziness. Summertime boredom was an open parachute for my curiosity. It was, I fondly remember, when I learned to day dream.

Back then, I dreamt about far away places, what my first kiss would be like, what I would look like when I finally passed through the gates of adolescence. It sounds more romantic in retrospect than it was at the time. It felt like life was somehow passing me by. Even as a child I was not practiced at idle time. By the time August rolled around, my fingernails permanently black from popping tar bubbles in the street, I was looking forward to school just for something to do.

Not so for the kids of today. Movies on command, favorite episodes of TV programs stored on their iPods and the incessant buzz of their cell phones, heralding yet another text message. In our family, just keeping technological devices off the dinner table feels like a minor victory. Their brains are continuously distracted, even their group interactions are continuously invaded by the barrage of texts from friends who are somewhere else. Yet my children with all their devices and digital connecting will still claim boredom. They have forgotten how to look inside, they don’t know that they have just to open the parachute of wondering.

They would and do roll their eyes at me when I encourage them to sit in the empty place of not knowing. Actually I usually only have their attention for moments at a time, so quickly will one of their devices interrupt the silence. My goal for this summer is to provide enforced boredom for both them and me. Giving myself the chance to revisit the experience of long lazy afternoons unplugged. I wonder if I will still remember how to day dream.