Otis Redding—God rest his tired old bones—liked to sit on the dock of the bay. Thanks to Daniel Chester French, the great Abraham Lincoln sits forever enthroned in his marble Memorial, contemplative and weary. Michelangelo sculpted Moses, the Lawgiver, seated (albeit about to rise). I have my porch for sitting…but you knew that.
In these frantic and fractured times, it seems to me that the patient art of sitting has been given a bad rap. Today, it’s all about doing and moving, not sitting. Doctors advise us that exercise is good for us—and they’re undoubtedly right—but so is sitting. It’s reflective; it’s relaxing; it’s time with friends or a beverage, or better yet, both.
I’ve been thinking about this partly because we’re moving into autumn, that most reflective season of the year, and patly because my wife is a guilty sitter. She can sit for almost three minutes before she thinks of something she has to do or worries that something is being left undone. I, on the other hand, can go for an hour or two before I get restless and need a chore like sweeping the porch or raking the leaves in the front yard. But as soon as whatever that chore is done, you can bet I’ll need a place to sit for a while before recharging my batteries and tackling the next item on my honey-do list.
When Archimedes first realized the potential of the lever, he boasted that given a place to stand, he could move the earth. Well good for you, Archimedes! I prefer to listen to Annie Oakley who said, “For me, sitting still is harder than any kind of work.” Right on, cowgirl! And Ms. Oakley is not the only sharpshooter to appreciate stillness. Blaise Pascal put it this way: “All man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room.” So true, although I prefer the porch, but that’s just me.
Now I’m not trying to make the case for sitting still all the time. Just some of the time. Progress implies movement but even progress requires a place and a moment when momentum is gathered. Any physicist will tell you that a great leap forward must be preceded by a contraction of energy and what better place to contract energy than in a comfortable chair?
Oh, I can hear all the movers and doers among you mummering, “Lazybones! Get off your duff! Time marches on!” While that last exhortation is surely true, why can’t I just sit back and watch the parade pass by? Do I really have to get up and march in it? Every great play needs a quiet audience and I’ve never yet met an audience milling around when the play begins. Maybe we need an addendum to Ecclesiastes Three: “There is a time to sit and a time to mill;” I mean, even God rested every once in a while.
So I’m with Otis. Maybe I can’t quite see the tide roll away from where I’m sitting, but I can see the sun rise in the morning or a thousand bright stars at night. I can think or read or chat with you if you happen to walk by. I can even write this Musing. OK, so maybe I can’t move the earth, but maybe if I sit here long enough, I’ll summon the energy to give it another try.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com