On Rest and Lying Fallow

Snow began at 8 a.m. and is coming down fast and furious.  My thirteen-year-old languishes upstairs with a head cold, missing school, although I suspect the kids will be sent home before the day is up.  My creative work is also at a welcome standstill, one writing text under an editor’s review and my middle-grade novel in the hands of five young beta-readers.  Instead of composing in the mornings, as is my practice, I’m reading, journaling, participating in an online retreat.  Still on my teaching sabbatical, in the afternoons I realign my efforts to more effectively create the world I want to inhabit—a tremendous opportunity afforded by rest.  I’ve just returned from Thanksgiving break, five days of visiting and play.

Nonetheless I’m weary beyond reason.  Is it grief?  Too many years of striving?  Menopausal hot flashes burning up my life force?  These past two years have hit me hard—three beloveds dead, two dear ones’ families broken apart, middle age wreaking havoc on body and brain, many organizations I care deeply about fallen to pieces, and then there’s our shared catastrophes, our threatened democracy, our fragile ecosystem, our intractable inequities.  I light a candle.  I’m glad to be snowed in, watching the city turn white.  Stopped. 

Resting isn’t easy.  This note is evidence; even as I invite restoration, I have an irresistible impulse to make something of it.  I miss my students and the absorption of the classroom.  When I’m not writing, I’m antsy; I feel unproductive; I begin to question my worth.  Yesterday a seed catalog landed in our mailbox.  Because the soil in our garden beds is depleted from seventeen years of continuous production, I’d already made the decision to let the garden lie fallow next year, instead planting cover crops, but that catalog reminded me of the consequences:  There are no garlic cloves buried under the snow, no seeds to order, no plants to be my sign of hope in February.  We can’t rest without loss.

Stopping is a gamble:  Do the gains outweigh the losses?  But really it’s not a choice.  The earth needs rest, our bodies need rest, the creative spirit needs rest.  Every winter, the snow invites it.  Every night, darkness lures us in.  Each breath lands there.  At the bottom of every page a white margin suggests it:  a pause, perhaps even an end.

  –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew