It’s a ridiculously warm 85° on this April mid-afternoon. I’m lying on my hammock, realizing I either shouldn’t have left it out all winter, or I should’ve cleaned it well before climbing in. The sun is out, and I’m under the newly returned shade of the backyard crabapple tree. The leaves are small, but there weren’t any at all last week.
Three large pine trees are arranged throughout my view as I look up at the sky, flanking the neighbor’s dead, pussy willow tree. It’s been dead for a few years; useful now only as a trellis for the neighboring trumpet vine to overtake by midsummer.
The warm weather feels good, but I’m not especially happy about it. Average temp for us at this time of year is mid 60s. Tomorrow will be our third straight day of record heat.
Instead, I’m tired. Grateful to be so busy with work I love, and yet wishing also that I was not so busy. And after what was already a full day, I have a few hours to myself before heading out tonight for more activity.
My lying on the hammock means that a bunch of things will be left undone this afternoon, before tonight’s appointment. Tomorrow night we leave for a weekend vacation on which my daughter and I are going to run a half marathon. Much will be left undone this weekend too.
My blog hasn’t been updated in a week, and even this Wise & Shine piece is barely getting written in time for my posting deadline.
And that brings us, finally, to Conrad’s classic novel, Lord Jim.
Back in high school I had months to read the assigned book, knowing that our class study of it was slated to begin right around this mid-April time slot. But it was my senior year. I was busy. Busy with important things. Also busy with unimportant things that I preferred.
Eventually, we came down to the final weekend; my last chance to cover the back half of the book and make up for the slacking I had done for several weeks. As luck would have it, that was also the weekend we were going to Boston on a high school band trip. It was the big trip we had waited three years to take; a high school highlight.
There I stood, in my bedroom, with my copy of Lord Jim in my hand; holding it over my suitcase, about to throw it in. I threw it on the bed instead, zipped up the suitcase and went to Boston.
We had a great time that weekend! I didn’t think about Lord Jim at all.
And then came Tuesday afternoon. It was our first day back in class after returning home Monday night. It was time to write that important essay on the book I didn’t read. Not only did I not read it, I didn’t even bother to study the Cliff notes like the other kids who were hoping to fake their way through.
The essay question basically asked us what Joseph Conrad was trying to tell us through his novel, Lord Jim.
Faced with getting a zero and killing my grade for the semester, I tried to write as honestly as I could. In my essay, I described how I had procrastinated for several weeks, and then, on my last chance to catch up, threw the book aside and enjoyed our big Boston band trip as much as I could.
From this experience, my essay said, I learned that I need to address my procrastination problem. But I also learned that sometimes enjoying life with friends and taking time off from work is much more valuable than actually doing the work. I admitted having some regret as to my time management decisions, but not too many.
That’s what I wrote about. I didn’t mention any characters or plot points. I didn’t talk about any of the messages Joseph Conrad was trying to convey. I signed my name on the paper, handed it in, and hoped that the teacher I most respected wouldn’t think I was a total loser. I did expect to get zero points though.
Several days later, the graded papers were handed back. I had gotten a “C”.
In the notes, my teacher expressed her disappointment that I had robbed myself of an opportunity to read a great piece of literature, but also that she appreciated my honesty, and the fact that I did learn some important things from my “Lord Jim experience”, despite them not being directly connected to the text.
I couldn’t believe it! That was the best “C” I ever got!
36 years later, I’m thinking about Lord Jim again. I’m thinking about “taking another trip to Boston” as I leave my pile of deadlines, tasks, and projects on the bed; zipping the suitcase without them for a while.
Maybe I’ll sleep in. Maybe I’ll just chill out and relax. Maybe I’ll read a classic book. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I choose Lord Jim?
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