Leave it to Margaret Thatcher to throw two worlds into a tizzy on her death.
Certain things happen when a famous person dies, and the former British prime minister was no exception. Long-prepared obituaries were hurried into print; long-readied speeches were given and commented on.
And in the universe of Twitter, the 140-character announcements flew around the world. One chosen “hashtag” got to the point, labeling the announcement “Now Thatcher is Dead.” Or, in Twitterese, #nowthatcherisdead.
All at once, the British found entertainment fans in mourning with them. You see, spaced differently, the post could also be read: Now That Cher is Dead.
What a difference one period makes.
Cher isn’t dead, of course. (At least, not so anyone can tell.) And the error, I suppose, can pass into the history of great publishing errors, along with the misprinted Bible that declared “Thou shalt commit adultery,” or the dictionary that accidentally coined the word “Dord” for density, when it meant that density could be abbreviated as “D or d.”
But I think the tale of Cher’s fictional demise actually points to something important. Pauses mean something. However small.
I get reminded of that a lot with Missy.
Missy, for those of you who joined us late, is my wife’s young aunt, a developmentally disabled adult whom we began caring for two years ago. In that time, Heather and I have done a lot of things with her: a regular reading night, an occasional art night, trips to the bowling alley and the softball diamond, moments of listening to music at Missy-volume (i.e, loud enough to stun passing blue jays).
But there have also been plenty of days and nights when the agenda included – well, nothing in particular. When Missy simply sat in the window watching the world go by, or rocked in an armchair with her mind wandering, her hands absently busy with a puzzle ball.
A precious emptiness of time. Silent, and blessed.
Other reminders come now that I’ve started walking more again. When you’re walking just for the sake of walking, there’s not a lot to do but concentrate on the act itself and the surrounding neighborhood. (Well, there’s the iPod or smart phone option, but that way can lie traffic accidents and dates with open manholes.) Areas that had flickered by at 30 miles per hour now acquire texture and detail and barking dogs; a mind busy with a hundred frantic details has a chance to slow down and become aware of its contents – or maybe just to settle to peace and be.
We don’t do that a lot these days. If we ever did.
The idea’s there, of course. Most major faiths teach the value of a day set aside for rest, or of time set apart for contemplation and meditation. More secular minds have noted the value of quiet in terms of their own, whether in noting the health problems that arise from too little sleep, or the economic value of vacation days and sick time in keeping an employee sharp and ready.
And yet, we continue to fill and fill and fill, as though laziness would send us to the principal’s office. Even our vacations are sometimes constant activity, a need to experience everything, lest something unique get away. (And that’s leaving aside the folks who bring their cell phones with them, of course.)
There’s nothing wrong with doing. There can be plenty that’s wonderful in discovering new things, or creating new accomplishments. I’m not arguing otherwise. But a life without pause, like sentences without a period, can run into chaos and confusion.
Even fields need to lie fallow for a while, to recover their strength.
It’s a hard habit to acquire. Frustrating, even, at times. Sitting back and watching Missy watch the world, it’s easy to think at first of the things I could be doing. And then, all at once, I realize 30 minutes has gone by, the things are still there – and both of us feel pretty good.
Maybe the old ad company hit on something when they talked about “the pause that refreshes.”
Take a moment to think about it. Take several. That’s what they’re there for.
If you like the idea, if you find it helps, pass it along. Take some time to share.
Just … don’t take the time to Cher instead.
The poor woman’s suffered enough as it is.