Fact of the Matter

The less important things in life turn out to be pretty important

We’ve heard a lot about “essential” things over the past year-and-a-half. The first activities to be paused or cancelled under pandemic conditions have (of course) been everything not essential to serving our most basic human needs. So, many things done mainly for social or leisure purposes have been off the table at one time or another: visiting with friends, playing organized sports, and so on.

I choose those particular examples because they’re the ones closest to me. I’ve played lots of organized sports in my life, partly because I love playing sports, but also -- or maybe mostly -- because of the friendships that have gone along with them. It’s those friendships that kept me going back as long as I did, training and playing (ultimate frisbee) competitively into the second half of my 30s. I was only finally able to slow down when my body started to offer me no other choice.

At times along the way (throughout my competitive sports days), I was conflicted by the… unimportance of it all. It seemed like investing so much time and energy into something that wasn’t really leading anywhere should have felt like a waste. But the reality to me was that it didn’t feel like a waste, and that -- actually -- it was important. Just because. I always struggled a bit to reconcile my own views on the topic.

I get it now.

Being put in time-out from ‘non-essential’ things over the past little while has made me realize that distinguishing things that matter from things that don’t is not quite so simple. When you break it down, the whole purpose of ‘essential’ activities -- say, providing food, clothing and shelter for yourself / your family -- is to get you to a place where you can turn your attention to things that are technically less important. Once you’ve checked the survival box, it’s time to start enjoying things that you could (in theory) do without: hobbies, time with family and friends, and anything else you do purely for its own sake. So if those things aren’t available, you sorta lose the payoff for having met your most basic needs.

In other words, if you strip away the non-essential things, they start to look pretty essential.

Recently, having been able to resume many of those ‘non-essential’ kinds of things, I’ve been seeing them in a different light. Sports, socializing, ‘wasted time’… Just because I can survive without them doesn’t mean I can really live without them.