My husband and I often joke that our two girls have had a serious case of FOMO (the fear of missing out) ever since the moment they entered this world.
Such is their level of dread about being excluded from any kind of action, that for a very long time in our house sleep featured only as an optional extra.
Up until the age of two and a half, if they did go to sleep, they didn’t stay asleep for long. And even when they did sleep, they still didn’t let you off the hook. Number one sneaked into our bed, only to twitch, flip and kick continually, while number two felt compelled to hold on to my hair and stroke my face. ALL NIGHT. (Always mine, by the way – daddy’s face was too scratchy. That’s why daddy didn’t shave.)
All this meant little rest for them, no rest for us. Until four months ago.
Four glorious months.
Finally – after five relentless years of broken nights – we are all sleeping! And they are playing so well together. We have some healthy space from one another during the day and overnight.
That’s what’s quarantine has gifted some of us with, hasn’t it? Yes, we’ve had the frustration of confined living. Yes, we are missing family, friends and church dreadfully. Yes, we are worrying about the welfare and safety of our communities and loved ones. Yes, we are grieving for lost livelihoods and mourning over excruciating loss of life.
But while lockdown has hemmed us in, in many ways it has paradoxically also offered us space.
- Wiggle room in our timetables.
- Rest from the rat race
- Time off the hamster wheel
- Time to think
- Time to create
- Time to dream.
Experts suggest that children now have 12 hours less free time a week than they did only two decades ago. And adults are as bad; we are constantly looking for ways to squeeze more efficiency out of ourselves.
People are saying the time is going faster year on year. Maybe it’s not. Maybe because of our fear of empty space in our lives, we are constantly plugged in, living life on fast-forward and in the process missing half of it.
I spent some of my early years at boarding school in the west African jungle.
Sounds exciting, right? Not really.
Well, it depends on your definition.
Did I go to ballet, or speech and drama, or hockey club, or zoo trips? No, I didn’t.
But did I spend hours playing in a treehouse, nestled high up in a beautiful flame tree that blossomed a fiery red in the dry season? Yes, I did.
Did I curl up in a hammock in the shade of the baking noonday sun and devour one Nancy Drew mystery and Babysitters club novel after another? Yes, I did.
Did I cuddle chickens and make worm soup and chase pigs out of my garden with a broom held high over my head? Yes, I did.
I remember the power of the empty space. Because when you don’t have endless entertainment options, you make your own. When you have nothing to miss out on, you don’t feel the need to fill your calendar to bursting. You realise that what you have right in front of you is as magical as anything else.
Some of us will be struggling with the lack of structure to our lives during lockdown.But what if this empty space could in one offer us an opportunity to take a long, leisurely look at what’s right in front of us? What if with a slow down in pace comes a vision of grace and an attitude of thankfulness?
What will quarantine teach us here in the Western world?
It might teach us that margin in our lives is not evidence of missing out but rather a worthy path to chilling out. It might show us that there is creative power to be found in an empty space. It might teach us that quality time and contentment can be found there too.
It should teach us to respect and cherish those who work tirelessly on the front line, sacrificing their quality of life on a daily basis so that we might keep ours. Their calendar isn’t empty in these times, but fuller than ever.
Are you feeling hemmed in today? It might help to think of yourself as ‘spaced out’ instead. Because it might sound Irish, but sometimes there’s no gift like an empty present.