Nov 02 2011
Here's to Nothing

Nothing is counter-cultural.

We figured this out not long after moving to trendy Palm Beach County, Florida, where we rented a little condo in a development that forms a ring around a pond.  Thing was, everyone could pretty much see everyone else, all the time.  Everyone's sliding-glass back doors face everyone else's.  We started getting comments from neighbors.

One evening, standing by the pond, a tipsy Finnish guy (he and his wife were drinking while moving out, tired of the inhospitable hood) told me -- I swear I'm not making this up:  "When I look at your family, I think about God."

I'd never talked to him before.

"I watch you outside, and your wife, and your boy, and when you walk with your girl, and I see how your wife makes people feel -- very welcome," he said.  "It makes me think about God.  I know that's strange."

Once, a single man, a Jewish guy named Steve, stopped by with his dog as Carolyn and I sat on our little back patio.  Carolyn had talked with him some.  Me, not so much.  I have a long history of being shy...and selfish.  I'm getting better.

"You guys ought to be in a museum!"


"Seriously.  You got the mom, the dad, the kids, hanging out.  When it gets dark, I can see you inside, eating dinner around the table and stuff.  You ought to be in a museum somewhere!  I love it!"

In our society's terms, what we do is a lot of "nothing".  For one, we don't send our kids to school.  (Forgive us, culture, for we have sinned.)  Carolyn's a brilliant teacher, and home-schooling fits nicely into the rhythm of our home.  I've heard the objections.  One of the more awkward, I think, is this:  "What about being 'salt and light'?  What about sending your kids into the dark places to redeem them?  What about the schools?"

Yes.  What about them?  And -- while we're at it -- what about our neighborhoods?  What about not just getting mail there, but actually living where you live?  Kids leave schools and change classes.  People change churches and never see each other again.  But where you live?  Now, there's a bit more there there.

A famous study of Chicago neighborhoods in the 50s and 60s concluded there is one thing, more than any other, that made for the "glue" of a neighborhood:  Women.  At home.  (Again, forgive me, etc.)

Turns out, when you have time to do what, culturally-speaking, is "nothing" (like walking the baby around, chatting with neighbors, letting the kids play together) neighbors get to know each other.  It doesn't happen when everyone's at breakneck speed and, when home, exhausted.

Nothing is quite something -- a very attractive something.  People long for it;  even admire it.  (One lawyer friend told me over coffee, "I hear what you're saying, about not working like crazy to buy stuff, and I want to live like that.  But -- forgive me -- you're the only one I know who actually does that.")

In this culture, "nothing" sticks out like crazy, like a...light...on a hill, or...something.  It wasn't just those two guys.  Our neighborhood knew we were odd.  The dad's home a lot, walking around with his daughter, catching lizards?  The mom is home a lot, too, talking outdoors with us about the ducks?  They waste time together.  They waste time with us.  Something's odd, here...

So:  Nothing made a man think about God.  In the U.S., right now, maybe that's not hard to explain.  We did nothing, and nothing is shockingly out of place.  Nothing means not everything, not running around infernally, not getting our kids this-lesson-and-that, not trying to sustain a lifestyle we "want" -- but not deep down.

Maybe Jesus's offer of "rest" is not an "after your dead, rest in peace"-type rest.  Maybe it's a lifestyle, now, that invites other people out of the maelstrom.

Here's to nothing.  I don't want to sound cocky about it, but I can do nothing pretty well.