Saturday, January 8, 2011

the challenge of rest

Early Wednesday morning, I walked out to the end of the paved path in front of the house, and slipped on an icy patch on the top step above the sidewalk. I landed with a hard "thud!" on the corner of the step, on the part of my backside just above and to the left of my tailbone. My guitar in its padded gig bag, which I was wearing on my back, helped to break my fall a bit, but it still hurt like hell. I yelled "Ow! Ow! Ooowwww!" over and over, and as it echoed up and down our street, my neighbor Nat came running across the street in shirtsleeves with a worried look on his face. At the same time, Sweetie had run from the house. They helped me up while I saw rainbows of pain flash before my eyes. After thanking Nat, Sweetie turned and led me into the house.

After a very painful first hour of crying and sniffling while I walked around in sweatpants, slammed some Tylenol and pondered staying home, I felt calmer, and decided that if I was going to be in pain wherever I was, I may as well go to the shop and try and do something productive.

I have spent the last three full days off my bike. Each day has brought a noticeable lessening of the pain (and a corresponding expansion of the bruise, which has evolved from a dark blue to a deep purple patch on my backside), but the first two full days of the pain were so intense that, even with a hot Epsom salt soak and a couple of shorter work days, I have avoided the gym, my bike and anything else requiring excessive movement.

Today I'm suffering intensely from the hereditary condition known in my family as shpilkes -- restlessness, an inability to sit still -- and although the temperature has plummeted again and there is a fine white frost on the grass and the rooftops in our neighborhood, I have frankly grown tired of resting.

In our on-the-go culture, with its 24/7 commerce and communications and studies showing that Americans are suffering from a lack of good sleep each night, restlessness seems an entrenched part of the American condition. Even Shabbat, the Jewish corrective to this constant motion, the one day a week on which Jews are commanded to cease work, and the most traditionally observant of us even refrain from using computers, radio and TV, is a hard sell. Unless you live in New York, Los Angeles or one of the other large, urban centers of American Jewish life, being a Jew in a world where everything is open on Saturdays can make it tough to observe Shabbat along traditional guidelines. I count myself fortunate to have been able to work out an agreement with my cooperative where I never work on Saturdays; I know this would not be possible for me at almost any other bike shop in Portland (a town not known for being a particularly "Jewish" place).

Still, it is hard to make myself stop and rest, even when I'm hurt. How much of this is a component of the culture in which I live, and how much is inherited from a father whose sphilkes kept him up at nights and compelled him to go for long drives at 2 am to calm his racing mind, I don't know. But past a certain point, rest just makes me crazy. My bike, hanging in the hallway, is calling to me. And since snow is called for later in the week, I'd better go get some quality time in with my bike today.

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