Take The Day Off
It was very easy to cut class at my high school. You simply walked off campus, and that was all. I know how easy it was because I cut class all the time — at LEAST once a week. Once one of our school security guards even tipped his hat at me (yes, his literal hat) as he watched me disappear down the street in the middle of the school day. There were plenty of things to do while not in school — you could watch “Kids In The Hall,” buy Oreos at the grocery store, or try to find secretly dirty pictures in the health books at the public library, for example — but my favorite thing to do was to get into Ben’s Geo Prizm with him and drive into the nothingness of the afternoon, blasting “Better Son/ Daughter” from the cheap car speakers with all the windows down.
(Just between you and me, it’s amazing that I graduated from high school and was allowed to go to college. The only thing I can think is that maybe the teachers didn’t really take attendance because our public school class sizes were so large. I was a terrible student who got away with it because I was very arrogant and pretentious, and I scared the teachers. Very little about my life has changed.)
One afternoon in March of my sophomore year of high school, a small miracle happened. It had been raining in Portland for weeks on end at that point. Portland rain is drizzly and persistent; the sky clouds over like murky paintbrush-water in a cup, and even the lumberjack-hipsters’ red plaid shirts look gloomy against the landscape. But the rain stopped on this day in March, and the sky was all of a sudden cornflower blue, and the miracle was that I had decided to skip school, and so I was able to notice. The nice weather was only the beginning: all that rain had confirmed hundreds of varieties of flowers, and everything was blooming with a boastfulness bordering on hubris. I had never really stopped to notice a day like that before.
Human fascination with this season crosses cultures and hemispheres. The March equinox — March 20 — means spring for this half of the world, and fall for that half. Equinox is a beautiful word. It’s derived from the Latin aequus, which means equal; and nox, which means night. Equinox means the day that the daylight hours and the night hours hold equal duration. Technically, the equinox occurs when the earth’s equator passes the center of the sun. There is a kind of balance that happens. For a perfect, untouchable instant, the tilt of the earth’s axis neither inclines away from nor towards the sun. It hangs for a moment in independence, as if it possesses an inexplicable and fleeting confidence in its own orbit.
In China, people balance eggs on their ends to celebrate the occasion. There is an ancient story that eggs can only balance during the exact moment of the equinox. In Iran, people celebrate the transition into a new year during the March equinox; they buy new clothes and eat symbolic lentils (for "rebirth"). In Japan, people celebrate the dead during the equinox in a ceremony called Higan. “Higan” means “the other shore” — the holy place a spirit comes to once it has crossed the river of existence. Everywhere, there is a sacredness around the balance: Before, we were one way. Now, we are another way. And there is a moment between the two where we must pause and acknowledge this hinge.
Yesterday, I was all about what was going on on my computer. Computers can have a LOT going on! I mean, you know; you get it; you’re sitting at one right now, probably. There are literally millions of electronic trails you can follow to find out what’s racist about cereal, or about what human-like things cats are doing. I go down those roads, too, and I’m not really ashamed. I mean, I never would have realized that “The Suite Life With Zach and Cody” was 10 years old if it weren’t for a clickhole. That’s information I’m glad I have, let me tell you. But on the other hand, even though I was learning all about the evolution of sea snails, AND getting my important e-mails read and responded to, AND adding integral details to myriad Facebook events, AND listening to the new Kendrick Lamar album (very political about race; just the kind of thing liberal white people like me like to be vocally into); I didn’t actually feel fulfilled. That’s OK, of course. People don’t have to feel fulfilled all the damn time. But the sun was out, and the birds were going nuts, and this was truly the first week in New Orleans you haven’t had to wear a sweater in the morning to go outside.
And so, although I had so much that needed to get done, I went outside. I went outside and saw the curl of the wildflower petals spread out by the bayou; saw the swell of clover creeping over the boat docks; saw the cormorants hunched over hunks of craggy gray wood. The minutes that would have gotten lost in the Internet spread out in front of me and elongated. It startled me, how much there was to notice.
One time I was so overwhelmed by all the things I had to do that I called my sister in a panic and asked for her advice. There were so many boxes that needed to be checked off, and I was failing. I was unmotivated and anxiety-riddled and all of my many projects were slipping through the cracks. My sister said, “There is nothing you need to do except breathe.” Then there was a pause and she said, “Well, and you have to go to work. Because you need to keep your job in order to survive. But everything else isn’t as important as you think it is. You don’t need to do anything else. Just breathe and be here and forgive yourself if something in you tells you that that’s not enough."
This was the best advice anyone has ever given me, and I have found it to be so true. All the things you think need to get done (to make you happy, healthy, well-rounded, accomplished, etc.), don’t actually need to get done right now. The most fulfilled people I know are people who sit on their doorsteps for hourlong stretches, without objective, without wanting anything more from that time. You can cut class every once in a while to notice the spidery red bugs that slink around the star jasmine; you can ignore your text messages for an hour or two to chart the way the water moves.
Since the day of the small miracle in high school, I have taken one day off every year to celebrate the spectacular shift that comes when the winter finally ends. I run around parks and plant seeds in dirt and try to identify bird songs. (I can’t really identify bird songs. I say everything is a “song sparrow” or a “whippoorwill.” We don’t even HAVE whippoorwills in New Orleans, but it’s such a romantic-sounding bird name, and whippoorwill songs are always turning up in sestinas, so I try to see if I can get away with it.) You should take the day off, too. People are unfazed by the idea of other people taking days off to ceremoniously worship their god or gods or sons of gods. My god is the unmatched first day of spring, when for a holy moment, everything is suspended in perfect, impossible balance.