Whenever I need some good advice, I always go find one of our town’s retired preachers. One of the retired Baptist preachers, to be more precise. Not because of the particular brand of Christianity he espouses, but because of his experience. He’s been around, this preacher. He’s done things and he knows things and he’s more than happy to help me along.
My problem of late hasn’t been spiritual or physical or emotional, but rather a curious bundling of all three that can be summed up in two words: I’m busy. The preacher and I both agreed that was a good thing, what with idle hands being the devil’s handiwork and all. But there’s just the busy and nothing else, and that seemed to be my problem. I’ve been doing so many things I enjoy that I stopped enjoying them. So I sat in his office one afternoon a few days ago and explained it all.
“Make sense?” I asked him.
He stroked his beard and nodded a yes.
“So what do I need?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“I don’t need anything?”
“No, I didn’t say that. I said you need nothing.”
I suppose I should mention that while this particular preacher is both wise and experienced, talking to him at times reminds me of what it would be like to talk to Yoda—beneficial if you can hang in there long enough, but aggravating in the meantime.
“Understand?” he asked me.
I shook my head and said, “Yes.”
“What I’m saying is that God put us here to do His work. That is part of enjoying life. But He also put us here to learn and grow. That is the other part of enjoying life. You’re doing okay on the first. Not so much on the second.”
“Okay,” I said, “so what do I need to do to get better at the second?”
I leaned back and tilted my hat up a little more.
“I gotta say this conversation’s starting to tick me off a little,” I told him.
He smiled and said, “Sorry. I know it sounds weird. It’s true, though. What you need is more nothing. To put it another way, you need space.”
“I can’t go off somewhere by myself.”
“I didn’t say you had to,” he said. “I’m not talking about that kind of space, I’m talking about perspective. You’re caught up in thinking that life is something to be attacked.”
“It isn’t?” I asked him.
“No. Life is something to dance with.”
“I don’t dance,” I said.
“Oh, I love to dance,” he said. “I can say that now since I’m retired. You know the Baptists and their fear of dancing.”
I nodded, he continued.
“My wife was the one who taught me. I got the steps down pretty quick. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was the space.”
“You need space between yourself and your partner. Get too close, and bad things happen. She said I was smothering her. Life’s the same—you shouldn’t be so close to it all the time. You need to keep it away from you a bit. Just a little, just enough so you can move without getting smothered. So that’s my advice. Think about it.”
I promised I would, and I did. And I realized in the past few days just how right he was. Space matters. A lot.
Up until the 1600s or so, printed words didn’t have a space between them. The only explanation I’ve heard for this was that people didn’t think there needed to be. So while you can now read a sentence just like this, at that time you’dhavetoreadasentencelikethis. That hurt my head just to write. I can imagine how you felt having to read it.
Space matters in other areas, too. The composer Claude Debussy said music was “the space between the notes.”
“Space is the breath of art,” said Frank Lloyd Wright.
I think I’m beginning to understand.
I think we can live life too intently. We can try to smother it and get smothered in the process. A little space solves that, I think. It’s the difference between seeing life as the end of the world and seeing it as the beginning of something greater.