Right to Work

One night this week, my gums woke me out of my sleep. I’d brushed them into oblivion before bed, so that, at roughly midnight, I awoke with the feeling that my teeth were rotting. While I lay there waiting for them to fall out, an image entered my mind’s eye with the sort of intensity of being blown onto a windshield. It was a black and white photocopy of my passport. I’d been dreaming that I was holding it in my hands, and that I was a failure– sitting in a car with the understanding that several things I’d set my heart on had fallen through. I was parked by a supermarket trying to figure out what to do next, or it’s possible I’d accepted I was optionless. There was relief in knowing it had only been a dream. It was like having my rights restored. 

The week before that, I’d beaten my own record. I’d sustained a prolonged jog where I couldn’t taste blood in my throat, which took the form of a 3k in 20 minutes. The first time I did it, I’d been having a bad day, and had taken the first opportunity thereafter to lock myself in the changing room and celebrate like a cartoon character. 

“I can’t believe you did that,” there was a mirror on the wall and I spoke into it. 

Though, it hadn’t been the first time I’d funnelled darkness into something light, and had marvelled as the light overcame it. If I hadn’t run, I would’ve written through that day, or planned, or in some way produced my way out. But the running was novel still, hard, and painful and righteous, and so obviously the thing people did instead of snivelling or sleeping or smoking. It felt more severe, more necessary than the average hobby; it wanted to be a habit instead, a compulsion. So that day, I made it one. There’d been a six-day streak of mindless running when I pulled my back, and was faced with the prospect of taking a day or two off. 

For much of that sixth day, I meditated on difficult thoughts, the kind that running had once sworn to swallow. I tried to revert to exerting energy in other ways to clear my mind, but really, it had to be a date with the treadmill, nothing else would do it. I needed to sweat it out, or rather, believe that I had. I’d set my heart on it, and it had fallen through.

I’d lost my right to work, to do and to achieve in a way that was fresh and powerful. The withdrawal was instant. I knew that running was compensatory but hated having to face it. ‘Doing’ very often is. Being still is the real deal though, it is there, in the ‘nothingness’, that the restoration begs to begin. It is there that you are met. Working through suffering is a fragile fix, it requires emulsion to even begin to work, however temporarily. That is why we often seek to become what we do, and then cease to be in the absence of all-encompassing goals. 

Before ‘The artist formerly known as Prince’ was found to have overdosed in the elevator of his ranch in 2016, he’d reportedly worked for six days without sleeping. 

“154 hours,” his brother-in-law revealed at a private funeral service. 

Like many other renowned figures, he was gargantuan, a package, an embodiment of the fruits of his labour; it might’ve been impossible to separate him from his contributions. The same was true of his longtime rival Michael Jackson, who chipped away at himself until less and less of a capable person existed outside of the incredible things he did. Both worked for needing to, and loved work for needing it. Few things could overcome their achievements– no uncomfortable feeling, or loss, or allegation could remain swollen in the face of a conquered goal. It proved to be an unsustainable way of living for the both of them. 

We’re not well-versed in being still, so there’s excess meaning in the things we do. I’m ending this having gotten back to my running, trying to gather in the benefits of doing nothing. I laid down as a child forced to nap, and arose not wanting to leave my parent’s bed. There grew a contentment with staring at the big white covers, in knowing a parent was somewhere outside the room busily providing, and I was still free to enjoy the part of them that would forever remain in the room. I didn’t want to be the child under their feet, at that moment. I didn’t want to hinder them, or spite myself in doing so. Stillness is scheduled in, I’ve found, so that God can have his way without being slowed by our half-baked plans, or our efforts to avoid what we must go through and not around. Doing nothing is best served with knowledge.

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