I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
-From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
When I was very young, from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s, our family would close out summers at Orchard Mansion, a bungalow colony in Moodus, CT run by Herb and Rose Kabatznick. A week and a half before Labor Day, we packed the car and drove the 110 miles from Flushing, stopping for lunch at Howard Johnson’s off the Merritt Parkway, rolling past Wesleyan University in Middletown, crossing the bridge over the Connecticut River, and winding our way along country roads until we finally arrived.
Orchard Mansion was a resort catering to Jewish families from New York, Boston, and points in between. A kitchen bell clanged to announce meals, which were served in separate children’s and adults’ dining rooms. Kids spent their days in camp while grownups relaxed on chaise lounges by the pool. Afternoons featured milk and cookies, served on a patch of grass near the playground. Before bed, we grabbed snacks at the canteen and watched bakers knead dough for the next morning’s challah. In later years when we were a bit older, we romped unsupervised through the rickety barn, explored grassy fields, and hiked into town to buy Bazooka bubble gum, Sweetarts, and Jawbreakers. After lunch on Labor Day, we returned to Queens, ready to start a new year at school.
Half a century later, a wellness industry has emerged to remind us to sleep, eat, exercise, and unwind with loved ones. On days off, we try to rest but often fail, whether it’s because work won’t let us go or because we fail to release it. Emails, text messages, deadlines, and crises cling to us like ticks, abetted by technologies that impede our escape.
As physicians we spend countless hours reading, studying, and caring for patients, which is what devoted doctors do. But no matter how much we love medicine, too many of us spend nights and weekends straining to catch up or toiling frantically to keep from falling behind.
On this Labor Day weekend, let’s honor workers everywhere, especially those who desperately need to rest. True days off are precious, but they’re too few and far in between. Let’s embrace days off, and when they arrive, let’s commit ourselves to doing anything but work, which is my plan for today.
Enjoy your Sunday, everyone. This afternoon, I’m driving to JFK to drop off Heide, Gabrielle, and Francesca, who are flying to Ireland where Francesca will be starting college.
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