Mark Tanner, warden of Cranmer Hall at Durham, started his Sermin to the college this week by referring to decompression. That’s the term used for sending returning troops form say Afghanistan to say Cyprus for a few days of beach and beer before they return to Brize Norton and their families. Without it, they will find it hard to go straight back into those family relationships, especially when so much expectation is. Jilt up for their return.
He went on to speak of the need for the families to be patient and wait for the arrivals – a time like that between Easter and Pentecost; but my mind inevitably turned to look at it from the other side. I am, as it were, decompressing myself, and from that point of view also need to stop being as drive and output focussed as the usual role requires, and do some waiting and watching and wondering – seeing what will emerge. (Intriguingly “emergence” is a big science theme up here at the moment, which has interesting faith links …)
So it was that I found myself whiling away some evenings with a game called Oquonie on the iPad. No words. No instructions other than some confusing icons and squiggly “maps”. Just an interconnecting series of rooms and paths, beautifully drawn but often confusingly linked in ways that are logical but not necessarily linear. You start out as a sort of smart dinosaur (what’s different you ask…?) and collect tokens from other characters which morph you into them across a series of levels, which you then have to revisit to collect more tokens to open up more doors and find hidden objects (with an unconscionable amount of looping around unless you keep your wits very clear) which eventually trigger the opening of a room where you meet the authors in avatar form – and access a new set of rooms, which lead to the final (for the moment) encounter depicted here. No doubt the developed are devising the next part of the adventure even as I write.
It made the notorious Listener crossword (which proved to be a two hour “quickie” yesterday* anyway: nice one Chalicea) look like a tea-party. So what have I gained, apart from a crick in the neck from squinting at the screen? As soon as I ask the question I know it’s the wrong one. It’s been all about doing something that is not about doing something. About otium. That was the Latin word for time off, decompression at the villa, the “weekend” if you like. But significantly, instead of being a negative formulation – time off, week end – it’s a positive one. The negative is negotium, negotiation, business, work. Now that’s a way to look at life! It’s our work-ethic driven world that makes otiose a boo-word. So here’s to decompression, time to wait, watch and wonder, and the possibility of renewal and “power from on high” not just ourselves on overdrive.
*Note to the confused: the online edition of Saturday’s Times comes out on Friday at 4pm, and regular Listener solvers compete to access it then and have it cracked before the hard copy is on the streets in the morning. Sad.