The weeks leading up to the Fourth of July holiday weekend were ferociously busy. I was finishing a months-long project at work, traveling most weekends to see family and friends back home, and trying to meet deadlines that were approaching more quickly than I had planned. Partly out of sheer mental fatigue and a desire for some rest, I decided I would forego making any significant holiday plans.
While millions flood in to the nation's capital to celebrate the country's independence, there seems to be an equally great exodus, with the District's residents to fleeing to beaches, lakes, and other areas offering respite from oppressive heat, humidity, and crowds. Many of my friends packed up and left for the weekend, leaving me with perhaps a bit more free time than I had desired.
Running on all cylinders for a few months and then coming to a sudden halt was tough. I quickly finished reading a couple books that had gone ignored for a few weeks, completed some overdue chores around my apartment, went for a run, and relaxed for a bit on my patio with some dusty magazines and lemonade. But I was getting antsy, and it was only Friday evening. I'll forego a detailed account of the rest of my weekend, lest you begin to experience what I'm about to describe, but over the next several days, not much else happened.
The result was a kind of deep boredom I had not experienced since childhood, in those late August days when the relief of summer vacation is long gone and the anticipation of the new school year makes the hours feel achingly long. This kind of boredom is so debilitating that even the enjoyable tasks and hobbies that I normally wish I had more time for seem trivial and non-captivating. Runs become tiring more quickly. Reading seems like an ordeal I'd rather not endure. And perhaps a silver lining to my detractors, writing is impossible; there is nothing to say. Even cooking, eating, and drinking become chores rather than enjoyments. I suspect this feeling is something entirely different than depression, but it nevertheless becomes a sort of trap from which it feels impossible to escape. But come Monday night, the Fourth, many of my friends were now available, so I headed to a barbeque, and things started getting back in order just in time to return to work the next morning.
I've been contemplating this boredom for a couple weeks now, and I am still unsure what to make of it. Some of the shock is probably due to my age, and some to the age in which we live. I suspect that twenty-somethings such as myself fill as much of our time with games, happy hours, work, vacations, gym visits, runs, books, iPods, and other distractions, worthy and vacuous, to assuage the uncertainty and angst of being adults, yet not quite living in a state of adulthood. And with entertainment on demand every minute of every day, suddenly finding myself with not much to occupy my time was jarring.
This past weekend, I was back to my normal routine. I traveled for work, spent time with family, and went to a birthday party where I reconnected with some college friends I had not seen in awhile. I happily enjoyed stimulating conversation, relived some memories from school, and explored new places with people I have known for a long time. If the Fourth was one of the lower points of my summer, this past weekend will surely rank among the best.
I was thinking on the ride back to DC how fortunate I am to have so many opportunities in my life to travel, be with colleagues, friends, and family who care about my work and my life, and for the many more good days than bad. It also occurred to me that perhaps that weekend of utter boredom was a gift, an opportunity to contrast my life as it normally is with what my life could be, and what it perhaps is for many. I am certain that I enjoyed myself all the more because of the memories from the week prior. Extreme and seemingly unconquerable boredom is not something that I want to be a normal part of my life. But when these moments pop up from time to time, it will be helpful to approach them perhaps as an opportunity for reflection and thankfulness rather than as a trial that must be overcome.
Michael J. O'Loughlin