My two columns for this weekend will be on “idleness” and “labour” respectively. I think I will leave “labour” for tomorrow.
Early yesterday morning I was harassed by a bee, on my apartment balcony. He wanted to share my coffee, I gathered, and would not be put off by my expansive gestures. I don’t know whether he was aware that I had slain one of his colleagues the day before. (Please don’t tell the animal rights people!)
From the living bee’s point of view, I suppose that I was being terribly ungenerous. There was a lot of coffee, and it was sweetened with honey that had been provided by—just whom? He only wished to reclaim the tiniest fraction. Nevertheless, I denied his request, and in the course of discouraging him, became positively irritated. (Now I know how the government feels when the taxpayer wants a refund.)
Perhaps I would not have been nearly so intolerant of, and uncharitable towards, this bee, had I not spent much of the last 10 days trying to restore my Internet connection, after the failure of equipment provided by a leading publicly regulated communications company, and dealing much of this time via telephone with the company’s almost excessively patient and empathetic technical services representatives in Delhi, India. Or waiting while the public courier service delivered a crucial piece of gear to the wrong address.
As I write now, I am tenuously re-connected to such as e-mail by primitive dial-up arrangements, jury-rigged by my tech-wizard son, in defiance of various protocols. (There is still a little room for initiative in our society.)
And my service provider is still letting me down; and I dare not go over to the leading competitor whose service I am told can be even worse; and what can you do but laugh? (Or jump off a bridge, but I prefer laughing.)
But back to this bee, who, I wish to assure my reader, escaped with his life. In the course of wrangling with him, my attention was drawn upward to something I had not noticed until that instant. It was the third-quarter moon, pale but distinct against the pure cerulean of the western morning sky. The beauty and vividness of it took my breath away.
And the bee then promptly disappeared, as if all he had really been trying to do was call my attention to the moon.
Now, one of the things I have noticed about the moon is her flawless regularity. Though often shrouded in cloud, one may rely upon her, to have been keeping her circuit, till the clouds part. I have not once been compelled to call a technical services representative in India to ask where the devil she is. And I can count on any homesick waiter in a Chinese restaurant to explain how she works, from an old quatrain by Li Po. (“Above my bed there is pale moonlight. So that it seems like frost on the ground. Lifting my head, I see the bright moon. Lowering my head, I dream that I’m home.”)
Or on an old Czech communist—Viteslav Nezval—to explain why, no matter how many times I see her, I always find the moon startling. (“The decorator is mixing his plaster. He’s lit an oil lamp on the top of his stepladder. It is the moon. It moves like an acrobat. Wherever it appears, it causes panic.”)
And on a pesky bee to point her out to me.
Three butterflies also flew past my balcony the other day, by another happy coincidence, just as my mind was turning to sailboats. They were common, monarch butterflies (common, like the moon), pushing north for some mysterious reason of their own, at my apartment’s altitude of 30 metres, against a headwind that was the mildest breeze to me, but a gale to them. I watched each in turn negotiate it, like a little Dutch botter on the North Sea, deflecting this way then that in zig-zags with the most elegant gestures of their frail little wings, and making steady progress.
I suppose, that through labour, we discover many things, trying, and often failing, to create reliable “systems.” We build nothing at all that will not break down without our constant attendance, frequent repair, and occasional alterations. We might call that process “intelligent design,” though the truth is we are not all that intelligent.
In idleness we discover what we already knew: that everything we have not made, works, and to incredible standards of precision.