Just Idling


June 22, 1993|By ISAAC REHERT

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days. . .

So the poem goes, as I remember it, a poem dedicated to contemplating the beauties of nature as late spring glides softely, imperceptibly, into summer.

Perfect days. But then there are also, in June, those imperfect days -- cloudy, damp and cool -- days not for contemplating nature but just for sheer idling. Idling. Doing not much of anything. A hammock, an amusing book -- no agenda at all, or at best an inconsequential one.

I'm reminded of an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson called ''An Apology for Idlers'' in which, already a century ago, he was decrying modern man's perpetual busyness with business. Anyone can make it by being busy, he said, but to be not busy -- to permit yourself to remain idle -- that takes character.

Yes, it does. For if idle hands are the devil's workshop, an idle mind may become the devil's own snakepit and snare. It can create hell itself. For the idle mind is in danger of filling up with miseries from the past magnified and horrified by the lens of imagination.

And so, on a cool damp cloudy morning in June, I decided to busy my idle mind with a chore I'd been putting off for a year. On this day I would take those three boxfuls of books I had culled from my collection to the Salvation Army. The boxes had been lying in the middle of my basement floor -- an eyesore, a scold, sloth incarnate -- since -- when was it? -- last June?

''When will you finally get around to delivering me?''

Today! I will deliver you today. On this cloudy day in June, just created for this kind of chore.

I drove the car around to the back alley and opened the trunk. Inside the basement, I lifted the first boxful of books and carried it outside. On the way, a title caught my eye. ''This Believing World,'' a history of the world's religions. Have I ever read this book? When did I acquire it? And where?

I'm just idling on this cloudy day in June, so I set the box down on a ledge in the yard and have a look.

Oh, now I remember. I must have bought this book at a Brandeis University used-book sale, for inside the cover is a flyer 'u advertising that event. Dated 1970. Have I really owned this book for 23 years? And never read it?

I turn to Page 1. Some underlining in pen and a few marginal notes in my handwriting. So I have made a stab at reading it. But my contributions end after about Page 10.

I begin to read. The first few pages sound vaguely familiar, but after that, no longer.

I read on. Fascinating stuff. I must have more interest in the

history of religion now than I did in 1970. Sure -- since then I took a formal course in Judaism, and heard a few lectures about process theology, and read some stuff on the psychological value of religion by Jung. Yes, I am more interested now in the history of religion than I was in 1970.

But -- what about my agenda for today? The car parked in the alley, its trunk open, anticipating?

Well, I'll carry out the rest of the books, but I'll lay this one aside. Maybe, on this day fit only for idling, I'll have another look.

Carrying out the second box, my eye alights on another book I've never looked at. This one is on Constantinople, a city a friend is now visiting. That book also came from a used-book sale. It's also old, doesn't have the many-colored pictures of a modern travel book. I park the second box on the ledge and have a look. There are little black and white line drawings done by the author, and the book seems to emphasize not the more famous places sought out by modern tourists but personal, secret, intimate corners beloved by the author, whoever he is.

I lay that book aside too.

In the third box I spy another book or two to lay aside.

I did finally load the three boxes of books, get the trunk shut and drove the car back to the parking place at the front of the house -- where, as I am writing next day, it still sits.

One day soon, hopefully still in June, after I've browsed about religion and Constantinople, there will be another cool cloudy day fit only for idling, and I'll make delivery.

Isaac Rehert is a retired Baltimore Sun feature writer.

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