He’ll be ready to go, for example, but I’ll still need to find my shoes or brush my teeth. So he gets on his computer. I appear with footwear or clean teeth only to find his attention deeply concentrated on work.
“I need about five minutes,” he’ll say, so I might go to the basement to start a load of laundry. By the time he’s ready, I am elbow-deep in whites and darks and can’t extricate myself just then. When the laundry’s under way…you guessed it: He’s preoccupied with a new task, looking for something in the cluttered garage or paying a bill. Sometimes we leap-frog ourselves right out of the movie or restaurant reservation we were getting ready for.
In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray hates that Debra is never ready to leave on time—not almost ready, with long minutes still needed to finalize her readiness, but “AIS,” Ass In Seat of the car, truly ready to leave. We’ve tried making AIS agreements in our house, but it always seems to come back to OMM: One More Minute.
It occurs to me that this must be a contemporary phenomenon. We can’t wait, literally. Our minutes are so crammed with productive activity or entertainment that simply sitting still doing nothing for a short while makes us antsy. Do you think the peasants in revolutionary France went to gather more wood if a companion was still getting ready to storm the palace? Did a cavewoman paint prehistoric animals on a cave wall to fill her time while waiting on a Neanderthal partner who was completing his grooming ritual? I’m guessing not.
The 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal said that all of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And that was a few centuries back! What would he have made of our chronic, frantic activity nowadays? “Crazy busy,” we like to say when someone asks how we’ve been. I wish I could sit still and pensively, without worrying that I’d be embarrassed if someone saw me doing absolutely nothing. Even our meditation and yoga tend to be squeezed between high-octane activities. Now, with our technological masters, it seems even less likely that we’d be capable of sitting quietly in a room alone.
But I’d wager that some great insights and ideas come to people who are “doing nothing.” If we lose that capacity, I fear we may be frittering away thousands of minutes a year in the garage, at the computer, in the laundry room. These activities might be necessary, but so are a still, resting mind and body—neither asleep nor busy, but in that great expanse in between where something just might come to us: a solution to a problem we’ve been mulling over, a comeback for that belittling co-worker…even an idea for an essay.
And we’d get our AIS on time.