I sat outside on my patio on a recent Saturday morning grateful for the day before me. The sky was blue; the temperature, mild. The sweltering Alabama summer is finally leaving and fall is on the way. It wasn’t just climate and season, however, that had me exuberant that morning. It was the blank day before me. Not one thing – nothing -was on my calendar. This is rare in my life, even for the weekends. I made a list in my journal of things I might do – cook soup for the freezer, do some much-needed yard work, catch up on some grading from school – but I was careful to list them as options. Choices, I labeled them, not a “to-do list”.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about having margins in our lives. Mainly confessing to my own weakness of over-scheduling and fearing I’d passed on the vice to at least one of my offspring, I was thinking about the need to have unscheduled time in a day, leaving room for the unexpected crisis and spontaneous opportunity. Margins – blank space on the page – are not enough anymore. Sometimes whole pages need to be blank.
It’s good for the body and the soul to wake up and have nothing and no one demanding your presence, your attention, your labor, or your time. To be able to lose yourself in a project, a book, a conversation, or a nap with no regard for an alarm ringing or a reminder pop-up is not just luxury but essential to well-being. Too often, we relegate these kind of days only to vacations, yet the more I try to honor my creative life, the more I realize that unstructured time is critical to the creative process.
Like children who need unstructured time for play, we need blank space too – to move from one thing to the next in exploration and wonder. Jesus chastised his disciples when they tried to exclude the little children from coming to him. In fact, he took the children into his arms and blessed them and told us all to receive the kingdom of God as children do. Could it be that living in the Imago Dei means leaving blank pages on which we can create?
For most of us, it isn’t that our every waking moment is filled with gainful employment or as students with scholastic endeavors. It’s often our entertainment and leisure that is over scheduled. Ballgames, gatherings with friends, volunteer positions and church work – it’s all good stuff and it has its place in our lives. Connection and community are as important as solitude and creativity. But I fear it’s the latter that take a backseat for most of us. Why is that?
Do we fear the blank day the way my students fear the blank page when writing? Despite the fear, not once at the end of the class hour, has a student turned in a paper with nothing on it. They may not write a masterpiece, but they always get words on the page and are better for it.
Sometimes in legal documents, manuals, or standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT, the words “THIS PAGE IS INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK” appear. This serves to alert the reader that there has been no printing error but rather the page is there to separate content or hold a space or prevent working ahead or even cheating on those timed test. It’s a useful phrase.
We can and should create; we need to wander around and choose rather than check off a ‘To Do List” every day. We need to write on our calendars occasionally: “THIS PAGE IS INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK.”