Rest for the Weary

Relaxing is hard work, and I’ve been putting in long hours.

Over the course of my lifetime, by virtue of sheer discipline, I have acquired a number of skills, chief among them my ability to relax. The average American works 1,778 hours a year, while Germans work 1,409. The hardest workers are South Koreans, who work 2,193 hours each year. We’re almost halfway in between them: not the hardest workers, but not the laziest either.

We Americans like to think we work harder than anyone, but the citizens of the aforementioned South Korea, Chile, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Poland, and Turkey work more. Even Mexicans, who take midday siestas, put in longer hours than we do. If I didn’t relax so much, it would boost our country’s work hours significantly, probably carrying us past Turkey.

If I were the patriotic type, I would feel guilty for not doing my share, but I learned a long time ago that patriotism leads to nothing good. So I became a citizen of the world, regarding all men as my brothers and all women my sisters—except for my wife, since it would be weird to think of my wife as my sister.

My talent for relaxing is unappreciated by my family and friends. Not once has any of them said to me, “I wish I could nap like you,” or “God has given you the gift of leisure, and you’ve been faithful in its use.” Never once. Instead, people are snarky, their comments sarcastic. “Must be nice to take a nap in the middle of the day,” or “Boy, I’d like to have a day off. Maybe I’ll get one of those someday.” A moral superiority lurks in their tone.

Non-nappers don’t realize the scorn and contempt we nappers suffer, or the hard work we put into our craft. Our parents seldom encouraged us. They would spy us resting on the couch and yell, “For Pete’s sake, get up and do something!” Nor were our educators supportive. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Conley, wrote a note to my parents telling them I wasn’t applying myself, which wasn’t the case at all. I simply realized I had at least another decade of school and needed to pace myself.

For the uninitiated, relaxation appears simple, even mindless. But the professional relaxer knows nothing is further from the truth. Even as I write this, I am building a screenhouse with my son, so I’ll have a place to hone my relaxation skills. Committed relaxers must always think ahead, making sure to create an environment conducive to sloth. Anyone can flop down on a couch or bed. It takes a dedicated relaxer to create an entire structure for the purpose.

We’ve been working on this screenhouse for three months now. It would have been done sooner if I had actually helped my son, but it seemed wrong to break a sweat building a place to relax, so I’ve let him do the work. I wander out once a day to check on his progress and offer advice, something I know he appreciates because every day he says, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I’m glad my son is wise enough to realize we relaxers serve a necessary function, that nothing would get done without our able assistance.

My son’s appreciation for relaxers is especially meaningful, given that he’s not a relaxer himself. To be honest, I sometimes wonder how we can even be related. His work ethic comes from my wife, who hails from a long line of deeply troubled people who work every waking moment, busying themselves with one task or another. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear the two were South Koreans.

“I’m getting older and will be expected to spend more time relaxing every day. The pressure is growing.”

There is a stigma attached to relaxing. When I told my high-school counselor I wanted to be a relaxer, he tried talking me out of it. “You are better than that,” he said. “Don’t be lazy.”

It’s a common misperception that relaxers are lazy, but that simply isn’t true. Everyone else gets to retire at the age of 65 and then relax. We relaxers never get to retire. We turn 65 and have to keep on relaxing until the day we die, with never a pause in our efforts. I knew when I became a relaxer there would be no end to it, that I would have to do it the rest of my life, but I did

it anyway. Many of my friends are retiring from their jobs, but I’m still at it and always will be. There’s no retirement watch for me, no party lauding my years of service, no kind words from the company president thanking me. There is only the unspoken expectation that I must continue in my craft until the Grim Reaper swings his scythe and cuts me down. We relaxers are many things, but lazy is not one of them.

I think more people would be relaxers if it didn’t take such a toll on the human body—bed sores, sleep apnea, charley horses. I won’t even mention the abuse we suffer at the hands of the pious. If even one more Christian says to me, “God helps those who help themselves,” I’m going to scream. What about “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Yeah, forgot about that little verse, didn’t you?

My screenhouse is nearly finished, and it can’t happen soon enough. I’m getting older and will be expected to spend more time relaxing every day. The pressure is growing.

“Take some time off,” well-meaning people tell me. “You deserve it.” They obviously don’t realize I’ve nearly exhausted myself relaxing. I don’t mean to brag, but if there were more relaxers, the world would be a more peaceful place. It’s your tense, high-strung workaholics who start the wars. It takes a lot of work to keep the flames of anger burning, and we relaxers just don’t have it in us. We’d rather take a nap.

I explained this to my wife when she complained that spending $7,000 on a screenhouse was too much money.

“Not when you consider that it’s for world peace,” I said.

I recently received my annual performance review at the Quaker meeting I pastor and was pleased to have the elders affirm my gift for relaxation. “You make everything seem so effortless,” they said. “In fact, some of us can’t recall any effort from you at all.”

“Thank you,” I said. “That tells me I’m doing my job.”

“What exactly is your job?” they asked.

“I spend a lot of time in quiet contemplation,” I answered.

“You seem to have a knack for it,” they said in admiration.

“I’ve been practicing a long time,” I said.

They didn’t know what to say, they were so impressed.

Illustration by Ryan Snook.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.