Lately, I've been feeling burned-out. The kids have more energy than I do, and they burn it off by fighting with each other or throwing all their stuffed animals on the floor or raiding the freezer. On top of that, keeping house is a dull occupation for a results-oriented person, because even if you clean the kitchen one day you have to do it again the next day, and the next day, and the next day. It seems like I have to run as fast as I can just to stay in one place, and recently my speed has been slacking.
And speaking of placing one foot in front of the next, I'm physically tired. Darwin and I have finally come to terms with the fact that our average metabolisms and relative youth won't last forever, and have decided to take steps to get and stay in shape. And that means running. (Well, for Darwin it means running -- for me it means a mixture of walking and jogging and hoping to God that no one drives by and sees me.) The fickle bathroom scale is putting me at a pound or two less, but the progress is hard and slow and sometimes seems pointless.
There are times when all I want to do is just read my book, for Pete's sake, but real life keeps trying to intrude. Julia's potty training is going oh-so-slowly because she doesn't seem to care about it, and it's getting to where I don't either. Baby is a good-natured little thing, but she gets tired of sitting in the recliner with my book long before I do, and she loathes the computer. Eleanor wants to raid the fridge or climb up to various shelves to get picture albums or dishes to play with. And I just want to be left alone to do my own thing, because what's the point of wiping down the table or folding the laundry when I'm just going to have to do it again tomorrow? LEAVE ME ALONE and let me read!
Yesterday afternoon as I was standing amidst the wreckage of the kitchen, I realized that my shirking of responsibilities was more than mere laziness or burn-out. It was sloth -- "not merely idleness of mind and laziness of body: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference, and an attitude of 'I couldn't care less', extends to the deliberate refusal of joy and culminates in morbid introspection and despair."* Sloth can take different forms -- Tolerance, Disillusionment, Escapism. And I was worn-out with being slothful, and I was ready to combat it.
So I pulled out our copy of Dante's Purgatory to discover what the penitents on the Fourth Cornice did to atone for their sloth, and what prayer they chanted. Upon flipping to Canto 18, I at once found the passage where the souls cry to each other, "Quick! Quick! Let not the precious time be lost for lack of love! ...In good work strive, till grace revive from dust!" The slothful souls are the only ones in Purgatory who are given no prayer to pray -- their prayer is in their labor.
And the labor that makes up their penance? Ceaseless activity. Namely, running.
*The description of sloth is taken from the commentary on the Image of Sloth in Dorothy Sayers' translation of Purgatory, Penguin, 1955