One of the unexpected consequences of our Pilgrim upbringing is a tremendous emphasis on work as a moral virtue. Time we are sitting can seem like time we are wasting, or at the very least, remind us of our endless lists of uncompleted tasks.
When a parent is growing older but not really “up there,” it’s easy to find ways to brighten their days: lunch or dinner in a restaurant, an outing to the theater, a trip to see family. But as the burden of age sets in, making “play dates” with a parent can get hard on the caregiver and care recipient. It’s easy to revert to the mode we grew accustomed to when our children were small.
A little while ago, I offered to take Dad out for his daily walk, and he said, “I don’t know what’s wrong but I really don’t feel up to it today.” So I heated up some leftovers for his lunch and started tidying up in the kitchen. And then I realized: this is it. Through shared meal times, I can give Dad some normalcy. So I sat down. Ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He read the paper. I read the paper.
These moments of nothing have the potential to be something. For the older person, perhaps having someone sit with you at the kitchen table mirrors the mundane (but missed) moments they may have had with their spouse. It’s quiet but companionable. For the adult child, these quiet moments say, “I’m willing to stop my life long enough to just be present with you.” Or, “I’m here if you have a memory that comes to mind.” Or, “I just like sitting with you.”
We don’t always have to do something to make the time pleasurable. Sometimes nothing is everything.