I’ve been bored lately. “I feel like a machine,” I told someone at work recently. “I’m too efficient for my own good,” I’m either in task mode, checking off the boxes, or I’m sedentary. Those are my two speeds. It’s all or nothing with me, baby. I’m either walking away from you as you’re talking to me because I’ve got more productive things to do, or I’m falling asleep. Maybe this isn’t true, but it feels true.
Today Sophie learned how to ride a bike. I backed the Expedition into the driveway and kids tumbled out the doors, stripping off coats even though it wasn’t quite 40 degrees. Sophie asked me to get her bike, a hand-me-down from our neighbor whose daughter is now in junior high; the bike’s frame pale blue and slightly scratched, the pedals a bit wobbly on their pegs. I heaved the bike out from under the mounting pile of Stuff in the garage, pulling it from scooters and baseball bats and empty girl scout cookie boxes.
She said “don’t let go” and I clasped my right hand under her left armpit as she mounted the bike. She leaned dangerously close to me and I held her hard, she steered in circles so tight I was pivoting on my left foot. “Make the circle bigger,” I instructed. “I can’t!” she cried. Eventually the circles got bigger, she leaned less and less. Soon I wasn’t pivoting, but instead running beside her. “Don’t let go!” she cried. “I won’t,” I said firmly, my hand now gently cupping her elbow. The length of my stride increased; I was no longer pivoting anymore, but loping along next to her like a focused, crazed cat. Jacob found his phone and began to film. We were getting close. She would only turn in the direction that leaned her body toward me. “Try to turn right,” I told her. “I can’t turn right!” she giggled, pedaling faster, her speed increasing.
And then there was a moment when I knew. I knew I could let go. Her hair fell out in wisps from underneath her pink and yellow helmet, her eyes squinting in the cold March breeze, her gaze set and determined. I jogged next to her, my hand no longer holding her elbow. “You’re doing it,” I said excitedly. “Do you feel it, Soph? You’re riding your bike!” And I got this view, this glance from just a few feet away, of a smile that couldn’t be contained by her mouth.
When I thought I was bored, I wrote a note to snap me out of efficiency-mode and hung it on the fridge. It said “Do something pointless.” I took it down within the hour because I didn’t want people to see it and not understand, but I try to remember it anyway. “Sit on the floor,” my co-worker told me. And she’s right. The kids will find me within minutes. They’ll stop climbing on the counters and coloring on the floor and maybe even fiddling around with my phone. They’ll pile on top of me and I won’t be asleep, and I also won’t be productive, but I might be a little more me.
And I’ll start to notice. I’ll see how Cohen spent a half an hour constructing a cardboard, golden “T” trophy in order to present his friends with “award” certificates he created online. Levi: Big Catches, he wrote, AJ: best football player. “Why is the trophy shaped like a T?” Jacob asked. “Because it’s the T awards,” he said matter-of-factly. Sophie wrote a story about a new girl in class who was supposed to be a witch, but as it turns out, was only just a wearing her costume for the school play. Ellie cut out shape after shape in a coloring book only to re-paste them on other sheets of construction paper to illustrate her own story. Mae lined up crayons, Everett lined up cars, both in neat little rows, carefully moving one object, then the next, then the next. Over and over again, they put their toes behind imaginary lines; I count One, Two, Three and they run to me and laugh as I swing them up into my lap. They run back to the same starting line and run again toward the finish- starting line, finish, starting line, finish, again and again and again.
When I’m bored I stop noticing. I stop paying attention. And I think it’s a sin to not notice- or for me it feels that way. We watched Lady Bird last weekend and a very practical nun asked “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and paying attention?” And I remembered that the truest things are the things we have known all along, but have maybe just forgotten.
The weirdly beautiful thing is that in the letting go of the “point” we notice something a little like meaning and aliveness, or something as close to those things as we are going to get. Grace creeps in unexpectedly. In the fierce pedaling of a seven year old, in the choice to sit on the floor, in the running from start to finish just for the joy of running. We notice and we remember the thing we have known all along: this is what love is.