A Cold Shower

1 The events of the past few days have not benefitted the cause of leisure in my life. The opportunity arose to work, the phone sounded, and I, with the resignation with which one rises before dawn said, as the Colombian expression goes, Toca; I must. Six days shalt thou labor, says the Lord, and what began as a quiet Monday soon prolonged itself almost unremitting until Thursday afternoon.

2 Nevertheless I have observed, as a result, more than I would have otherwise. I’ve had a better glimpse into the life of the sons of the privileged. These I saw had a sort of uniform: a bright or dark, never pale and always colored shirt untucked, jeans, and the regulation black loafers. Polite fellows, and intelligent. I got a glimpse of Windows 7—and was not impressed. I saw a British looking woman at the BC, pale, stout and clad in tweeds, but definitely Colombian in the opening of her mouth. She was, in the Study Centre at the BC, loud and ubiquitous. I was twice nocturnally in ancient public transportation with interior decoration that can only have drawn its inspiration from the interior of a coffin: dark, quilted material, gleaming metal trim, dim lights and eerie, and all of it inexpressibly shabby, like faded luxury all jerking around in the habitual patterns of traffic here as if undergoing an eternally incipient rigor mortis. During the day I watched the driver of another such mini-bus sprawled, with vacant expression, seeming like nothing so much as an ugly, postmodern rock star being jerked along by the passions of the city. I saw loudly attired universitarians, heard their gabble, was able to talk to a frail and whiny, yearning colleague, had a conversation with an aspiring entrepreneuress whose eyes shone at the mention of happy memories. I have observed, the town has grown a little smaller and a little bit more rich as a result, and I have paid for it.

3 The Colombians use the verb “Toca” to speak of an inevitable obligation. I’ve heard it in three contexts. Whenever a Colombian is forced by circumstances to undergo an awkward and lengthy transportation circumstance, they explain it and then say, Me toca; I ain’t got no choice.

After listening to a video in which a narrow, scholarly conclusion was advocated as a universal key to Scripture, I suggested to the Colombians watching it with me that the learned chap from the Infallible USA was actually not saying anything very meaningful or useful. Well, they said, in the mood of deliberation, Toca verlo otra vez; We have to watch the whole thing again, i.e. before judging it. They weren’t sure they had followed the intricacies of the argument (I was pretty sure it came entirely free of intricacies).

Two very old ladies were discussing the shower amenities at a retreat facility. Colombians shower every day and those who go to Europe sometimes tell stories that they almost do not themselves believe about the irregular practices of Europeans when it comes to this necessity. One of the elderly ladies was telling how she would get up before five to stand in line for a hot shower at the retreat facility. The hot water ran out, apparently, before the day even began. Well, the second replied, if there is only a cold shower, toca. Si claro, replied the other, toca.

4 What happened to me this week is like that cold shower, but it cleared the head and gave perspective. I find the attitude of Colombians expressed in the use of the verb Tocar useful in examining it. Everything comes to us in the providence of God: the consequences of our deliberate choices, good or bad, are all a part of it; they do not escape the ordering of his benevolence. Ours is to submit to circumstance, the way Colombians do to everything, with a sense of resignation. I have found the passivity of Colombians in the face of consequences, the getting on with what they have to do, instructive. I am for leisure, but when I have less leisure than formerly? Then the core of leisure becomes more valuable, its substance precious. In those moments I learn to use it better, and out of that precious core of leisure to make better use of its mysterious medium, time.

Leisure for us now is somehow an intersection of time and eternity, and we must make that nexus with our consciousness. And the effort of that nexus is, as Barfield likes to put it, a nisus—and a very useful word. We are struggling to emerge out of time, and only through time is time conquered.

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