When I was a Bostonian (or just-outside-of-Boston-ian), randomness was one of life’s essentials. Due to the brilliant construct of the MIT campus, the great ol’ Massachusetts Avenue divided the campus between the student life section on the west side, where most of the dorms, gym, and student center were located, and the academic buildings on the east side. When my classes and research work were done on a random weekday, but before the problem set marathon, I would come out of 77 Massachusetts Avenue in the late afternoon and many times, instead of crossing the street to head to my dorm, I would turn left instead and walk toward Boston.
Upon turning, the Boston skyline across the Charles River would immediately be in sight. I would walk across the river, which would take about twenty minutes one way, and simply enjoy the breeze and the sight of a big body of water. When the sky was clear and blue, it would be very close to what I’d call perfection.
Usually, after I got to the other side of the bridge, I would simply cross the street and walk back. On a freer day during vacation, I would extend the walk into the city, walking along Newbury Street, crossing the Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons, even going as far as Government Center and Little Italy. For what reason, you may ask? Well, nothing particularly, except for the simple pleasure of walking and savoring the moment. I loved the fact that I didn’t need to go anywhere, didn’t need to do anything, and I could just…be.
Sure, the one-hour detour or the Boston loop may heal a case of a cluttered brain, or increase the oxygen intake in my blood stream. But these functional reasons were not really why I went on a walk. I wanted to enjoy the walk not for what it could do, but for what it was.
I believe in enjoying life. I believe in extracting as much joy as I can in various simple pleasures, and walking is one of the ways I find that enjoyment. The air, the surroundings, and the people – I get to experience all of that when I move at pedestrian’s speed.
As I get older, this type of spontaneity becomes less and less accessible. But I still believe in its importance. Perhaps it requires more intentionality in carving out time for enjoyment, especially amidst the numerous tasks that we need to do.
“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24
Perhaps because the verse is sandwiched between Solomon’s “all is vanity” litanies, I used to read it in a more bitter tone: things are going to be gone and destroyed eventually, so just enjoy them while they last. But read in an optimistic way, the verse says quite a different lesson: don’t worry that things won’t last, just be grateful that they are here now. Take pleasure in food, enjoy your good labor – these are gifts from God.
Sometimes I think about how I would be remembered, should my life end. In a busy world that puts much value in working, I actually don’t want ‘hard-working’ to be the first thing people think about when they hear my name. Instead, I want to be remembered as someone who enjoys life and everything that I do, someone who lives with joy.
How fitting it is that Sabbath is here, a day to be savored not because it serves as a relief to the week’s burden or weariness, but because of what it is – a time to be.
“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord… The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)