To Nurture the Inner Life

While the plane sits on the tarmac, the woman next to me is making a phone call.

She is talking deals, trades, price fluctuations. Her voice is knowledgable and fast, chopping the air like a big butcher’s knife. Between rapid, definitive comments, she orders a seltzer from the flight attendant, fires off an email or text, rearranges the seat to her liking.

And I, who had been reading a book, feel like a sloth next to her. You’re not doing anything, Whelan! I think to myself. Make some use of your time.

I put down my book and take out my phone. I make a call…to my mother. Who doesn’t answer. Which is fine, because I didn’t really have anything to say to her.

I text a friend about a coconut water I’m enjoying.

I respond to an email that doesn’t need a response.

Then I think, Why am I making busy? And I know why: I’m hooked on the idea that busy means important, busy means productive, busy means worthwhile.

It’s a tyrannical idea. And it’s thick with the belief of our times: We must be productive - narrowly defined as working, usually for money - to be worthwhile.

This idea robs us of the import, productivity, worthwhileness of reading a book. Of contemplation. Of slowly taking in the moment. Of the very things that nurture our inner life and help us discern what is important and what is worthwhile. To risk stillness is to be in defiance of all we’re taught to believe about productivity and worth.

I pick my book back up and put my phone on airplane mode. Soon, the woman next to me does, too. Her gusts of energy settle. She pulls up the window shade, leans back in her seat, watches the view as we charge down the tarmac.

She looks beautiful. Perhaps this still, observing presence is who she really is underneath the trades and texts.

The plane lifts off, in defiance of all we once believed about gravity and flight. The earth falls away below us. And quietly, powerfully, we rise.

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