Arts & Entertainment

The Joy Of Doing Nothing

As this blazing summer settles in, I found myself reading two essays lamenting the enormous and impossible task of doing nothing and accusing those who prefer quiet to noise as evil gentrifiers. (Both were in The Atlantic, naturally.) Allow me a brief dissent.

Doing nothing is glorious. It is one of life’s deepest pleasures and ultimate goals. Yesterday, I walked out a couple of miles to a stretch of beach at the end of Cape Cod, where the tide sweeps in and out to create shallow, vast, warm pools of water surrounded by marshes. I brought a book, which was in fact a collection of Cicero’s essays on life and death and old age, but never opened it. I’d already started, and Cicero’s defense of getting old amounts to the idea that you can keep working productively until the day you drop dead, which was not exactly the theme I was after when I picked it up, but I left it in my knapsack for other reasons.

One of those reasons was to use my eyes beyond reading. Words, words, words, anything to be free of them from time to time. The view is always a unique variation on the same, unchanging theme — sand, grass, water, sky — with one obvious exception. A whole stretch of dunes was wiped out a few years ago by a couple of really bad Nor’easters. Most of us saw it as another disaster caused by climate change. But it turns out these dune wipeouts happen every now and again, and, over time, the tidal patterns rebuild the mounds and drifts of sand that eventually become covered again with dune grass, and wild rose-bushes. I’m not saying climate change isn’t affecting the Outer Cape — the erosion is very real just a few hundred yards away — but the sight of these recovering wounds makes me feel a bit better. Yes, everything changes. But everything also stays the same.

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