Twenty Something

Discovering ‘The Duty of Delight’

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Here we are, in the thick of summer, this deep and gentle place.

The world is still broken, but we are given a season of delight. Sweet corn and watermelon, birdsong and bare feet and the nostalgic sensation of endless summer stretching out before us like a million tufts of cloud roaming the big blue sky.

What are we to do with it?

It feels like we need summer more this year—for all the kids who worked so hard at school, for all the teacher-heroes who kept at it, for all the parents who juggled work and home, for all of us who are weary. The divisions of politics and the pandemic and the politics of the pandemic still cut sharp, leaving empty chairs at kitchen tables and open wounds in mothers’ hearts. It calls to mind the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

But Scripture also promises beauty from the ashes. “Behold,” God says, “I make all things new (Rev. 21:5).” That’s how this summer feels after a late, timid spring—a whiplash from snowpants to swimsuits, the great surprise of heat.

Ahh, yes, I remember this.

Asking about summer plans is go-to small talk, a simple question that always trips me up. Are we to make up for Covid’s lost time, shuttling between camps, doing all the things with all the people?

“Not much,” is my meager answer.

The truth is nary a recital or tournament marks our calendar. We’re swimming as much as possible. Our goal is to eat any meal outside that we can. We’re pouring over Shel Silverstein poetry and a book of illustrated maps that has us imagining distant lands from the comfort of our pajamas. Our most formal endeavor is The Popsicle Project, an attempt to sample as many popsicles as we can and rank our favorites.

Summer, at its best, brings us back to childhood. It invites us not to do more but to go deeper, not to race ahead but to slow down.

It takes courage to do this: to resist cultural norms, to risk falling behind—a notion that haunts me even though I know it is more perceived than real.

In the end, the delights of slow living are too sweet to pass up. This morning I’ve been writing thank-you notes in our screened-in porch. Pen, stamps, hand to heart. A meditation in gratitude.

The shortest rain just fell—a tiny sip, not a dousing, for the thirsty earth. It fell with precision, contentment: That is enough. Now the woodpecker is tapping away, and a breeze rustles the neon-green leaves.

I’ll stick with our simple summer and trust that is enough.

I’m putting stock in the quiet wisdom of women religious, whose simplicity allows for a vibrant spiritual life. St. Paul writer Patricia Hampl once asked a cloistered nun for “the core of contemplative life.”

The nun’s answer surprised her: “Leisure.”

I’m also taking cues from Dorothy Day, a woman of action and leisure. She didn’t see them as adversaries but companions. She felt an urgency to serve the poor and an imperative to savor each day. Dorothy described “the duty of delight”—the idea that leisure isn’t wasted time, that there is a duty to relish God’s creation, slowing down long enough to soak up the beauty and blessings in our midst.

“Mass at 8. Most beautiful surroundings. Low tide and I collected shells, very large mussels,” Dorothy wrote in a 1962 diary entry.

“Up at six,” she wrote the next day. “A still foggy day, very close. Great clamor for crows, great murmurings among starlings, laughing gulls.”

Listening to the birds powered her, making her a more faith-filled Catholic and a more effective activist. Duty and delight. That’s the secret to summer.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

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