Growing up, we spent the majority of our summer holidays in Italy. Since they bought and started doing up a house there, my parents still go often, and it is nice that we can still sometimes join them.
Having spent so much of my childhood there, I was never that impressed with it (especially when so many holidays were spent in houses in the middle of nowhere). Going back as an adult, however, I feel able to appreciate the beauty of the country more, and there is something in particular I have come to admire about its people.
I’m sure anyone who has been to a small town in Italy has seen the houses and cafés outside which sit, not tables, but just a row of plastic chairs. As the weather warms, these chairs become part of a daily ritual: men, mostly older but of all ages and types, come and sit in these chairs and watch the world go by. They may or may not smoke, drink espresso, pat their dogs. But the link between them is always that sense of rest as they literally do nothing.
As a young girl, I used to giggle at the sight of half a dozen men’s eyes following us as our foreign car intruded on their Italian village. But now, as we pass them, I take a moment to pray for their gift.
I have come to realize that in our fast-paced world, there is a great sense of unease and guilt that comes with doing nothing. We have even come to re-define it, so that “doing nothing” starts to mean “doing nothing productive“. We feel that rest is what we do when we are watching TV or listening to the radio or reading a book. Yes, these can bring rest occasionally, but the purest rest often comes in a form we find incredibly uncomfortable.
Am I able to sit comfortably in the silence, my hands, mind and heart at rest, simply being? Am I able to do nothing? Often I find that I am sorely lacking in this. Whether in my daily tasks, prayer, or relaxation time, I find it very difficult to just sit, soak, be.
Productivity becomes my idol, as it has so often in our culture.
I have grown up in a generation that finds boredom very difficult, almost unbearable. To just let myself be bored, to embrace it without trying to smother it in noise and actions, that’s something I am desperately trying to work on!
The Mediterranean is known for its health and longevity. Italians often live long lives, as do other similar cultures. The diet undoubtedly helps, and they are often fairly active. I am sure siestas are a part of it, too! But ultimately I believe the key to their ‘success’ is their ability, their gift, to just be. To rest, properly, daily. To take each day as it comes, and not force themselves to keep up with the fast pace of the world. To take their time over tasks, to prioritize family, and to “do nothing” a little everyday.