Nothing frustrates me more than to be interrupted when I am bent on my objective of the moment: until I can receive it as the pause I need.
In my more fanciful moments death looms like a vacation with a checklist directed towards tidiness and completion. The plants are watered, the bills are paid and there is enough in the checking account to cover the next month. The garden is weeded, mulched, and blooming in season. Deadlines have all been met, duties acquitted, birthdays and friendships acknowledged, questions big and little answered, sorries made good, forgivenesses extended.
No room for dust, accumulated mail, the list of Things that Must Be Finished that multiplies by twos and threes for every task checked off: plane reservations, checking in on a sick grandson, grasping some essential key to a writing blind-spot that Gregory Orr’s essay must hold, emptying the overfull rain gauge so I can keep track of the bounty of this week’s generous skies.
And especially no tolerance for interruption and the disproportionate heat of irritation that comes with yielding my priority, my timing, my drive towards completion.
In my more fanciful and unawakened moments – and they are plentiful, I actually try to live this way, in spite of the fact my doing so has led not to the sought-after continuity or satisfaction, but to exhaustion and dissatisfaction.
I have entirely missed living in those moments of interruption, defending against them as against a mortal assault.
So here is what I have learned to do in those moments: pause.
When I can just pause and let things come to rest where they are, let myself come to rest where I am – there is a fulfillment that is greater, I could say more real, than completing any task itself. The pause may call for me to turn away from my task and face the person, or cat, who wants my attention. I may cap my pen and place it in the red ceramic cup I use as a holder. Or I may put my laptop in sleep mode. Taking such a physical action lets things come to rest where they are.
It takes naming where I am to let myself come to rest.
A string of namings helps to to let the irritation and heat dissipate. I am pissed. I am holding my breath. Oh, I am breathing. I am cooling down.
These two – a physical action and a string of namings – turn interruption into an ally who invites me to PAUSE, to stay in contact with the living moment.
Tasks lose their frantic edge and any claim at shoring up my security, identity, or attitude of good-will towards myself, and become one absorbing shift of relationship after another.
The heat of my irritation at countless daily interruptions dissipates.
The pause: this is life making itself useful, like my mother’s pen knife.
This practice confers an actual, not a false continuity, one that holds both the completed and the unfinished, the resolved and the unresolved, perhaps eases the difficulties of that most final of interruptions: death, attended by untidinesses of all kinds – loss, solemnity, awe, and mystery. Perhaps even my own death, inevitably to be attended by the untidy, and by the great unknown.