It happened, some time ago, that I caught myself in the act. For the fourth or fifth time in one day, I had responded to someone’s “How are you?” with “I’m so busy!”. My response didn’t elicit any unusual reaction from my co-conversationalist, but it did for some reason shock me. It felt ridiculous and so…inappropriate. I nearly burst out laughing at myself. I realized that I’d been answering people’s “How are you?s” with “busy” for a long time (years, really). And though I realize that most people use the question as a form of politesse rather than as a heartfelt, genuine concern for your true inner being, I was surprised by how ridiculous my answer was. The idea of busy is relative after all. I used to say I was busy when I was an undergraduate with only school to worry about. I used to say I was busy when I was working as a summer researcher with long days in the archives but blissfully clear nights. And I certainly said I was busy when I had a baby, a toddler, a full time job, and a thesis to write. I’m not saying “busy” doesn’t exist. I’ve seen it in action all around me. I’ve seen people who use every single minute of their lives to keep their families together, to give to others, to work on projects they believe in so strongly, to fight for health and wholeness. Busy is real. And busy can be hard.
But I was telling people I was busy because, a) I felt busy and b) it was an easy excuse. It was a way to say – please don’t ask anything of me, please excuse me for missing you, please don’t expect anything of me, and please, for the love of my very fragile sanity, don’t try to reach into my world right now because it’s too frigging messy and I think one more straw might break this camel’s back. For me, busy had become a shield to protect me, an excuse when I’d let someone down, and a locked door when I thought my world might explode. But it wasn’t just something I was selling to others. I was buying it too. I was saying the same things to myself – please don’t ask anything of me today, please excuse me for missing you, internal world, please, for the love of my very fragile sanity, don’t try to reach out to the world right now because it’s too frigging messy and I think one more straw might break our back. You don’t have to go to the gym, you’re busy. You don’t have to clean your room, you’re busy. You don’t have to look at those hard spots inside your heart, you’re busy.
Being busy happens. As Greg says, everyone is busy. But when it becomes a tool to avoid the rich details of life, relationships, and genuine interactions, it verges on the ridiculous. I’m trying to step away from that edge.
So I’m putting “busy” in my bullshit column. It may have to get pulled out every once in a while – I do have to protect that fragile sanity sometimes – but I’m putting it away when another word would be truer.