Not long ago, a friend posted on Instagram, “Is busy the new black?” It struck me as pithy, because I imagined all the connotations of what this might mean: busy is timeless, classic, common. Every woman owns a black dress, so everyone must be busy, too.
I always cringe when I hear someone say to me, “Wow, I can’t imagine how you do everything. You are beyond busy.” While there is a kernel of truth to the comment, I believe that I am not much busier than most Americans. Busy has become a useless term, along with other words I loathe, like balance and self-care.
We are careless with words.
So much of what we speak in ordinary conversation falls into a hollow well, echoing what could be conveyed clearly if one allows herself time to articulate a new thought with fresh meaning.
Am I busy? Well, yes. But so are millions of modern women. I don’t believe using the word busy in my personal vocabulary excuses me from striving to live a valiant life, from becoming more than I am today and being available to those around me. It is a constant temptation to use the fact that I am a caregiver to a medically fragile child as a reason not to stretch, not to care, not to listen or enter into someone else’s uncomfortable world. “I’m so busy,” I could say, and most would agree and understand.
On the contrary, the hardships of my ordinary days are precisely what drive me deeper into the world, searching for lonely and bruised souls who have lost the light of hope and abandoned the will to truly fight for a life well lived. It’s not an easy call. In fact, I feel it’s much more difficult to do this work as a mother of almost five.
Maybe it’s because I am a polarizing person, because I have such an extreme lifestyle – not in the reckless, impulsive sense of extreme, but in the reality that one must become a radical in her own way, in order to both pay attention to others and to attract the attention of a world in lethargy and despair.
I refuse to participate in a milieu of lethargy and despair.
This does not mean I have never felt hopeless. I know well the desire to give up and to teeter on the edge of actually doing so – not on life, but on the call, the vocation, the work I’ve been commissioned to do. But I can’t, because the flame of zeal – and that is what I mean by extreme or radical – does not die, is not easily extinguished.
No matter how busy or exhausted or overwhelmed I become, I always imagine someone out in the vast earth crying from her own weariness, and this stirs the flame in my heart to move, to do something, however minute and invisible, that might ameliorate their pain.
So that is my reason for avoiding the use of the word busy. Busy implies distraction, excuse. It’s the same reason we reply, “Fine, thanks” when asked, “How are you?” when we are, in fact, not fine. So we say, “Oh, I’ve been busy” or “I’m fine,” because we don’t know what else to say, and we don’t want to invest in the depth of explanation required to forge relationships that matter.
Either that, or we’ve been conditioned to remain in superficial conversations, because we’ve learned that few want an honest response to “How are you?” or “How have you been?” So our default becomes “Fine, just busy, you know?” And we expect nods of agreement, because busy and fine are ubiquitous euphemisms to which all can relate in their own subjective ways.
“I’m fine, just busy” is our feeble attempt to connect somehow, to find the thin thread of commonality, however cheap and imitative of the truth it may be. It’s derived from our longing for true dialogue and meaningful relationships, but when we have exposed our hearts in fleeting moments of vulnerability, we’ve discovered that most people turn away or change the subject or clear their throats and politely exit the conversation.
I believe it’s time to shift the way we converse and relate to others, to stir people out of their apathy and find what drives them to love and work and exist in a world that does not treat them kindly. If each of us would admit that we pine for the same things – love, intimacy, community – perhaps that might crack open the doors of our wounded hearts to risk letting someone in, one sliver of light at a time. Maybe then we would say, “Thanks for asking, I’m going through a rough time” instead of “Fine, just busy.”
Even if we are rejected or ignored, at least the hope of honest conversation remains on the horizon, and one’s integrity is spared. Then we can shake the dust off of our feet and go forth in peace to another who might be more receptive, both to his pain and ours. Then, finally, a breakthrough will follow in which the persistent, pervasive isolation and loneliness we all carry might be brought into the light. And our burdens could be collectively relieved somehow, just by risking a few small words of authenticity to kill the trite drivel of useless prattle.
To me, this is everything. It is the only way I know how to fill my cup and the cup of those around me. So, no, I am neither busy nor fine. I am full of pain and love, emotions both high and low, and I’m ready to share them with you if you are ready to open your heart and your hand to receive the gift.