Everyday for the past two years of medical school, I have made a to-do list, and I have failed that to-do list. I made these lists from the energy that pours out of me after a 6 am cup of coffee, and morning me certainly believes the sky is the limit, and that time is a construct. Any empty space and then some was filled with studying, clinic, socializing, or working on other things pre-determined. A busy life is the good life, right?
Never mind the feeling of overwhelm and panic that accompanied the morning bolt of energy. Never mind the disappointment at the end of each day that everything did not, in fact, get done, what with the whole being a time and body-bound creature. Days went by quickly, but I felt exhausted and like the real things were never getting done.
Then the quarantine happened, and the way I thought my days in the hospital would look for the coming months to years was suddenly thrown into question. For 6 weeks, I’ve been working from home on classes, trying to figure out what would happen next, or what my next steps are. There has been space in my days.
During the first few weeks of quarantine, an odd and urgent feeling lingered. A sense of alarm grew in my chest when I realized how little there was to do. In fact, I felt overwhelmed at how underwhelmed I was.
The next thing that came was the comparisons. That friend was spending this time bonding with a large family. This classmate might have invented a way to cure COVID???? (Just kidding. But it sometimes felt like that). Was I using my “break” from the pandemic in the right way? Would residencies like it? Was I doing enough or taking advantage of the opportunity of free weeks?
As a person stuck at home, I have been fortunate to have a lot of time on my hands, and at first, not so many to-dos. In the first few weeks, seemingly opposing feelings took root: a sense of groundlessness, alternating with a feeling of relief that I was not obliged to anything at all.
Recently, I did do something that I found useful: I read, and reflected on what I read while I went on my safe and sanctioned nature walks in my local park. The books I read had a common theme: space, undoing, rest. Both spoke about the value of resting, of allowing ourselves to be off: off schedule, off our phones, off the clock. Off. While I read these books, words like rest, restore, allow, permission hit me in the chest, and helped something unlock.
We know we live in an attention-grabbing and productivity-obsessed culture. We have seen the tweets during quarantine lamenting that our generation doesn’t have hobbies. I think we—or, at least, I—don’t have rest either, or a space for nothingness. If we want to have that, we’ll have to do it intentionally, and against the current of what is the water we swim in.
This week, the word I’m reflecting on is Rest, as it continues to call to me again and again during these quiet weeks. Over the next five days, I’m going to incorporate this value into my life to notice how it feels, how it looks, and how it goes wrong.
Tomorrow, you’ll find a simple piece here on how I plan to dwell in this idea over the coming week, with concrete actions you can try, too. Doing something by ourselves is great, but doing it together is even better.
Before that, I’d ask you to reflect on some of the questions below, and let me know how rest figures into your life now and outside of quarantine.