Summer in South Bend: The End of Summer

This summer blog series began by arguing that leisure is an indispensable part of living a human life. Now, the school-year is upon us, when we’ll find ourselves hemmed in by a perpetually growing list of obligations, always haunted by the sense that we should be doing more. The more we accomplish, the longer our resumes; the longer our resumes, the better our job prospects. We are constantly looking to the next step in our careers, the next project, the next thing to do. Meanwhile, our work becomes toil as we do it more and more for the sake of what we’d rather be doing instead.

Leisure is different than toil. Toil labors for the future; leisure awakens us to the present. Leisure is about delight and contemplation, about thanksgiving and rejoicing. When we enjoy something, it directs our gaze to what is present, toward our companions and neighbors, to the things and events unfolding before us. How rarely do we rest like this, receiving what exists as a gift!

The goodness of the world, which we recognize in leisure, is indeed a gift, for nothing good exists of necessity. We may need food, but food does not have to be delicious. Every person, both friend and neighbor, exists as we know them in large part due to a contingent series of choices made by them and by other people. Parks, books, movies, bicycles, restaurants, beaches, board games, and basketballs: none of them had to be. Nudge our Earth a little closer to the Sun, tilt its axis a smidgen, make a change ever so slight in the chaotic discs of rock and gas that formed our solar system, and none of them would exist. Nothing in the universe is so unlikely as our living world and the people within it.

Yet there they are before us, all the things we enjoy and all the people we love. Against all odds, some deep root within the world keeps springing up, bearing delightful and nourishing fruit. Despite the wickedness of our bedraggled human race, the sun and stars still shine, rain falls on the ground and on our faces, and the earth brings forth our food. Exploited, ignored, cursed, our world still feeds us in body and in soul.

Only love could be this generous, giving good things without measure to both the deserving and the undeserving. Love is the living energy that hums and crackles in the fabric of the cosmos. It is the mover of what moves, the sower of what blooms, the being of what is. Love makes the world. God poured forth the ever-given light, and having made all that exists, he called it good. He loved the world.

Leisure is also, in the end, about love. When we set aside our anxious and busy thoughts to look around, to enjoy what exists, and to have compassion on our neighbors, we affirm those words of God. We also call the world good. We give thanks, and we learn, once more, to love.

Summer in South Bend: Relaxation and Leisure

Many graduate students find themselves in South Bend for all or part of the summer. Campus is relatively quiet and sparsely populated, providing the opportunity for hours of undisturbed research and writing in the library or in the office, as well as time to tackle that to-do list that piled up over the course of the school year.

Yet the calm of summer allows space for more than uninterrupted academic work. It is also an ideal time to relax from the tensions of the school-year, to unwind and prepare oneself for the next cycle of classes, research, and teaching. One of the great thinkers of the late Roman Empire, Augustine of Hippo, wrote, “I pray thee, spare thyself at times; for it becomes a wise person to relax the high pressure of attention to work.” (De musica ii, 15) Few better exemplars of scholarly productivity and acumen exist in history: Augustine’s surviving body of work, which remains profoundly influential, consists of more than 100 books, over 200 letters, and nearly 400 sermons, many of which he composed while serving as a bishop, a position that involved numerous religious and civil responsibilities. Yet he also believed in the need for leisure.

Indeed, leisure is one of the most human of activities. A requisite for flourishing as a person, leisure affirms that human life has worth apart from productivity. In other words, we need not always be “accomplishing,” whatever the social or professional pressures we experience, nor feel guilty about using time to do what has no clear utility. To work without ceasing saps the vitality of joy, which is the heart of the good life. As another ancient teacher once wrote, “Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 NABRE)

This being so, Ask the Salmon will feature various activities and opportunities for fun throughout the months of June and July with graduate students in mind. Check back regularly for new posts and, as always, feel free to Ask the Salmon questions about Notre Dame or graduate student life by e-mailing gradlife@nd.edu.