On Rest and Responsibility

Yesterday, for the first time in a month, I sat down to write, because I break all my own rules in the summer. I stay up late on "school nights" (yes, work nights, but everyone needs idiosyncrasies of phraseology, don't they?), eat ALL THE ICE CREAM IN SIGHT ALL THE TIME, and sometimes don't write for weeks on end. Maybe it's the writing for work to pay the bills thing that makes it easier to slack off, or maybe it was finishing the first draft (rough as dried lava, I promise) of my second novel in the beginning of June and now I'm rebelling from organized craftsmanship.

Either way, you're fortunate that after I spent an hour re-writing the same four paragraphs yesterday, my computer crashed and I lost all four of those ill-fated paragraphs. They were going to be cynical, choppy, and pessimistic—three things I try to avoid.

Instead, these cheery ruminations . . .

I paid for my college. Phrased positively, I learned independence, money skillzzz, and how to work hard for what that matters to me. Described bluntly, sometimes I didn't buy shampoo for a few weeks at a time, a third of the clothes I wore I'd found on the ground, and I had to say no to doing things because I couldn't pay for them. It's a lifestyle of poignant pride.

When a study abroad trip with my favorite professor loomed on the summer horizon, I immediately wrote it off. It was expensive, the cost of a whole semester in seven weeks—and counting the money I'd lose out on earning, another third of a semester's bill. I chose to leave the glamorous international travel to those who had received large inheritances from distant relatives (this has never happened to me—if you have one of these relatives looking for someone to sponsor, please contact me).

Staunchly self-sacrifical and determined to squirrel away my hard-earned cash for a more responsible cause, I stubbornly ignored my professor's advertisements all semester. I was unswayable. Wouldn't dream of dreaming.

In the beginning of April one of my brothers attended class with me then took me out for coffee. We looked into the street. People hurried by (people only ever hurry in Chicago—nobody takes their time. waste of life, if you ask me.) as we sat peacefully, sipping lattes and munching on macarons that cost several bucks a piece (granted, they were delicious. worth four bucks, though? is any cookie, really?). Then my brother asked if I would go on the trip to England, and I gave my practiced answer. He wasn't impressed and told me I should go.

I talked to a few more people, threw caution (and thousands of dollars) to the wind, and signed up. The caveat: I would only go for three weeks out of the seven. I made the bargain with my penny-pinching, cents-scrounging, ripped-jeans, dirty-haired self. I could pay for three weeks, come back and earn money the rest of the summer, and end up not quite flat broke.

Landed in England. Spent the night in a hostel. Turned my dad's hair gray (sorry dad).

After a week of being in England with the group, I couldn't imagine leaving in 14 days. I wanted to stay for the rest of the summer—to eat bananas foster and eton mess most days, see places I'd only ever read of, rest from the past two years of constant work—and stay with the friends I'd made. But I didn't know if I should. It seemed like a good idea, but then so does pepperoni pizza at 11:50 p.m., and it rarely is. So I called my mom.

She listened to my desires, rationalizations, worries, and said,

Consummate responsibility deadens the soul—and having a dead soul is irresponsible.

That ended the discussion. I spent the rest of the summer in England and have never regretted it. I got the money somehow—it just ended up working out (thank you, kind parents, thank you, kind God). Today, I am me because of that trip. And the simple phrase from my mom became one of the guidelines for my life.

Often, I get caught up in responsibilities. Have to work. Have to clean the house. Have to cook so we don't DIE OF STARVATION OR SCURVY. Have to buy this present or go to that event or wash those clothes. I'm convinced the list actually never ends.

So how can my mom be right? How can it POSSIBLY bet better to occasionally shirk responsibilities just to do lazy things I love—really love—that feed the soul?

Because at the end of the day, what will I remember about my summer? Cleaning? Cooking? Washing another sinkful of dishes? Buying groceries? Folding laundry?

Nah. I'll remember the long bike rides in the hot sun—the lazy evenings at the beach with Curtis (he's very wonderful), two dozen barbecue wings, and IBC root beer—the spontaneous trips to faraway places to see people we love—the long walks in the evening sunlight that makes no enemies and keeps every promise—these are the moments of my summer that are different, that are free from responsibility and worry, and that keep my soul alive.

And you? What makes your soul thrive? And do you do it?

The classic "Hey Dad, everything went fine till I got here" picture—Birmingham, England

The classic "Hey Dad, everything went fine till I got here" picture—Birmingham, England