In Defence of ‘Busy-ness’

A Senior Woman Expertly Stitches the Binding Onto Her QuiltRecently, my 81 year old parents, within the span of a month, made over 30 quilts. Yes, you heard me. Made quilts–30 full-size blankets–From scratch… and gave them to a shelter that provides assistance to people without homes in Edmonton. For those who don’t know them, this probably warrants an eyebrow raise and some awed musing as to how it is even possible. Well, it is possible, and, for those of us who do know them, this does not come as anything of a surprise. You see, my parents are busy. Call it a product of their generation (both were born during the dirty thirties), a testament to their pioneer work ethic, call it whatever you like, but you need only spend the hours between 5 and 9am with either of them to know what I’m talking about. For them, busy-ness is a way of life. It would not be unusual for my mother to have 90 buns on the cooling rack before 6am or for my father to have fed the cows, collected the eggs, constructed a shoe horn from scrap metal, and retrieved a dozen rogue golf balls from the local golf course, all before Joe and Nancy Blow have even lifted their head off the pillow.

This seems normal enough to me–it has never been any different–and though I will not even pretend for a second that I keep myself as ‘busy’ as either of them, I have an enormous respect for what they do. I say that because I think ‘busy-ness’ has been getting a bit of a bad rap recently. If my ear for trends is anything to believed, there has been a lot of media focus/social movement geared toward ‘slowing down’, living in the moment, a sort of quality over quantity mindset. Of course, like anything, ‘slowing down’ has its merits, but I’d put forth the argument that ‘staying busy’ does too.

One quality I appreciate more and more as I age is simply the ability to get things done–whatever those ‘things’ are. I see this quality in many places. I see it my husband when he fixes a vacuum hose before I’ve even had the chance to register that it is broken, in a friend who recently spent his Saturday afternoon painting our basement, and in a number of friends who manage to work, run their families, and spare the energy and forethought to drop off thoughtful items and meals at my house at just the right times. Awesome. I am the grateful recipient of their ‘busy-ness.’ I think what needs to be acknowledged is that there is a humanitarian element to this whole keeping busy thing that shouldn’t go unnoticed or undervalued. Sometimes quantity does trump quality. For instance, if my parents, for whatever reason, had decided to stop at a meagre 10 quilts, well, there would be 20 more cold people in Edmonton tonight. Or perhaps it wouldn’t have been quite so awesome if they had made the decision to ‘slow down’ rather than to grow a garden full of vegetables for the food bank every year. Or perhaps, if this friend hadn’t lent his time to help paint our basement last weekend, we would have spent Sunday evening finishing it instead of enjoying a family game of UNO. Perhaps…

I can’t account for the reasons that some, like those I’ve mentioned, are so prone to a life of ‘busy-ness.’ There are those that might say that it is a way of hiding from other things or an addiction of sorts, and there may be plenty of truth in that. There are others though, like a friend’s 95 year-old Amma, who insist that ‘Keeping busy is the secret to longevity,’ and I hope I’ve made the case, that more than occasionally, the actions performed in the name of busy-ness make a positive impact on humanity. Whatever the case, I think it’s worthy of noting that a little ‘busy-ness’ might not be such a bad thing.

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