Free Period

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.

One Reply to “Free Period”

  1. I will try this again. I was replying to your “Rochat, Can You See?” column last night, but my cell phone Samsung keyboard went dead on me, and I could not finish nor send it. What I wrote, and then continuing:

    Hi Scott,

    Interesting column you have here today—it hits so close to home.

    You have such a canny ability to speak to people’s hearts, and something about your column today simply compels me to share—no not Cher—although I was Cher this year, a month ago, for Purim.

    Share and Cher—those are homophones. Some people mistakenly call them homonyms, but true homonyms are spelled the same, as in duck and duck. Like, I duck when a duck flies right over. True homonyms.

    Homophones simply sound the same but have different meanings, and all homonyms are both homophones and homographs, but not all homophones are homonyms, nor are they ever heteronyms. Heteronyms and homonyms are homographs, but not all homographs are homonyms. Some homographs are heteronyms, and no homonym is ever a heteronym, nor is it supposed to be a heterograph, but some people get it confused.

    I was confused about them until a nice man one day kindly pointed out to me my mistake and misunderstanding.

    Mistakes and misunderstandings—they can cause much chaos and confusion and even heartaches by the dozen—just like a life without pause, like a sentence without a period, like homonyms homophones and homographs can run into chaos and confusion.

    And it’s funny because right now I am in a pause. Careful with that one—not there yet—omgosh I just saw that—too funny!! I am not THERE yet and that’s fine with me. That pause can wait.

    What I mean is my life is on pause, and I am not even the one that pushed that button necessarily. It just happened, so to speak—a gift from my children. I am up in Estes Park for two days. Alone. Two days to chill. Two days to pause, to reflect. A time to think. A time for prayer, contemplation and introspection. A time to recover my strength, if you will.

    A precious emptiness of time. Silent and blessed, just as you mention in today’s column. And yes—silent—there is a TV, but I have not and shall not turn it on. (And did not turn it on.) It interferes with my thinking.

    Although I did bring my iPod player for music and a little exercise—mostly Christian music. And I took a walk around a lake—in quiet—no iPod; just thinking, just slowing down, introspecting, questioning, praying, searching, becoming aware of my mind’s contents, just like you mention in your column! This is turning out to be, yes, a pause that refreshes. Interesting timing.

    And you’re funny—so I am taking the time to pass it along, to share with you. Not Cher you. Nor share you. Nor Cher with you. Life without pause is also like a life without prepositions and can run into chaos, confusion or misunderstanding.

    Recently I thought: Prepositions are people too. They are very important as seen here in share you, or share with you, or sharing Cher or sharing with Cher, or share you with Cher! Words! Prepositions!

    Sher would be nice to quit Chering around like this, huh? Oh yes, I say that woman has suffered enough!

    Prepositions are people too. They are very important. And remember the sixth commandant: Thou shalt not kill.

    Katherin Engelhard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *