In looking for a passage to use in class next week as an example of good writing, I pulled out my Susan Wise Bauer book The Well-Educated Mind and flipped around a bit. And I found this beauty. She's been discussing the various channels where you might gather information about, say, a recent bombing on the West Bank. Then she says:
in order to be enlightened about the
suicide bomber on the West Bank, you must read
seriously: history, theology, politics, propaganda, editorials. The ideas
that impel suicide bombers cannot be gleaned from websites or interactive
media. The causes of such desperate actions cannot be made clear to you through
a picture and a moving headline while you eat your toast. These things must be
expressed with precise and evocative words, assembled into complex, difficult
sentences. To be enlightened – to be wise – you must wrestle with these
sentences. Technology can do a great deal to make information gathering easier,
but it can do little to simplify the gathering of wisdom. Information washed
over us like a sea, and recedes without leaving its traces behind. Wrestling
with truth, as the story of Jacob warns us, is a time-consuming process that
marks us forever."
Oh, so true. Wisdom takes time . . . requires wrestling . . . needs depth to swim in. I'm all too aware of how shallow my life gets too often.
This shallowness has been a theme popping up a lot lately. Amy, the BSF teaching leader, noted last week that, when you forget your identity, life becomes all about completing tasks rather than fulfilling your purpose.
My life lately has been about completing tasks. I've always been a big fan of to-do lists, but they have been my lifeline for a few weeks now. The more busy I am, the more dependent I am on those lists. For a while there, I had a handful of them lying around, cross-referenced with each other. It was the only way I could possibly relax -- otherwise, I was afraid I would forget something important and I'd be thinking about it constantly.
Completing tasks. Gathering information. Shallowness.
I've been feeling a lack in my life. And I'm realizing now that it may be a lack of depth. Busy-ness forces me to skim the surface of so many things just to get by. I heat up a frozen lasagna for the family dinner because taking the time and effort to actually pull out genuine ingredients and assemble them into a home-cooked dish seems like a waste of energy. I quickly throw together a checklist for my daughter's school week because actually sitting down and discussing what she's learning with her feels like a luxury I can't afford right now. I slap a quick grade on my students' papers because figuring out the whys and hows of the errors they are making takes too much time at the moment.
But the quick fixes are shallow. I miss the purpose. I forget my identity. I lose the chance for wisdom.
I need depth. My legs are cramping for room to stretch, stretch, stretch, and still not touch the bottom of the pool. I want to stop dog-paddling in desperation and swim with big, wide strokes, feeling the bigness of the water around me and realize I'm still being held up.
I keep thinking now that the play is done . . . now while I have a week off of school . . . once I get caught up on my sleep . . . I can get the multitude of little things done and then have margin again to dive deep. But maybe that's not going to happen. Maybe I need to force myself into the deep waters anyway, despite the complicated, cross-referenced to-do list lying on the kitchen table. Because maybe the workout my limbs get in the deep waters is what strengthens them to get through the shallow waters, too.