Unplugged – The “Rest” of the Story

My husband and I had just sat down to breakfast one weekend morning when the lights flickered and died. The power outage proved to be neighborhood-wide but was quickly restored; however, we learned that the cable company responsible for our TV and Internet was experiencing difficulties getting service back online. The representative politely reported the problem would be fixed within the next 20 hours.

Twenty hours? My husband and I exchanged blank stares. But what about the day’s football games and racing – my husband’s favorite weekend entertainment; and what about my lengthy, cyberspace to-do list?  “What do we do now?”

We did the only thing we could – we spent the day together, talking and relaxing. We took naps that were short, but oh, so sweet. We read from a pile of previously untouched magazines. We made plans for an upcoming trip, relishing the growing excitement the preparation sparked.

The day’s pace was slow and easy. I cooked. We ate meals at the table instead of in front of the TV. Together we tackled a small project that had begged our attention for months. Later, we sat outside watching the sun fade ever so slowly from the sky. Does it always set so slowly, or did it just take its sweet time this day?

The airwaves’ silence was a blessing, too. For one, brief 24-hour period we remained blissfully unaware of the distressing events we are powerless to do anything about: the nightly summary of shootings, stabbings, hit and runs, burglaries and other assorted crimes; the dire speculations about an economy mired in the doldrums and teetering on the brink of collapse; and the latest natural disaster wreaking untold death, destruction and despair.

In contrast, the day was serene and restful. It felt remarkably long—far different than most weekend days which seem to end soon after they begin.

With that delightful respite fresh in mind I enjoyed reading Senator Joe Lieberman’s, The Gift of Rest, detailing his practice as an Orthodox Jew following the age-old tradition of honoring the Sabbath. I’m envious of his weekly retreat.

Despite a demanding schedule Lieberman makes time each week to adhere to his religion’s ancient customs, even when it means leaving his car at work and walking home after a rare, late Friday night Senate session.

Marking the official start of the Sabbath at Friday sundown, Lieberman powers down his computer and Blackberry, and turns off the television. His world of work and busy-ness stops, and a full day dedicated to faith, family, friends, and most importantly, to rest begins.  His is a potent message for our rest-deprived, 24/7, manic, electronic-driven world.

Lieberman writes that every generation has its own pharaoh and slave masters, and that ours might be the electronic devices that mesmerize us. “Even when we think we are at leisure, they invade our attention, holding us in their grip and separating us from our family and friends.”

I hadn’t realized how tight and invasive that grip actually can be until experiencing our unplanned, unplugged weekend and reaping its tremendous restorative benefits.

Growing up in the 50s, before the dawn of the digital age, I do remember a time when there were “blue laws” requiring most stores to close on Sundays. On that day Mom’s good china came out, and the dining room table was formally set. Family and friends dropped by after church, and Dad piled us kids into our old, green ’47 Dodge for a drive out to the woods to go fishing, or hunting or just playing around. In those times Sundays were a day set apart from work, and they were filled with fun, family and friends.

I remember, too, the 60s when the old taboo ended, and the precursor to the “always on” world began.  Then, our Sunday shopping sprees felt like liberation from old, outdated values that didn’t fit a modern world. In retrospect, of course, Joni Mitchell nailed it with her lyrics, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

We might not be able to roll back the clock, but we can pull the plug – at least for a day. We can all use the rest.

Author’s Note: This appeared in The Almanac of Arlington Heights.