“Order is the only possibility of rest.” —Wendell Berry
I often think of Wendell Berry when I’m cleaning my desk—my actual desk or my virtual desktop. There is a satisfaction in the filed papers, pens in a row, folders on the screen neatly arranged against the backdrop of a summer vacation photo, that nothing else can bring. The mind that has been trying to hold too many disparate things at once, that has felt as jumbled as the loose scraps of paper and the screen-filled files, now can rest as ease by putting them all in their place, getting all those scattered soldiers marching in formation. Or better yet, those random dancers unified in a sequenced choreography.
The physical schedule that had a clear and known rhythm—Tuesday was 8th, 8th, 5’s, 5’s, lunch, singing, etc.—and was made tangible by kids entering the music classroom has now been replaced by links and passwords while sitting at my desk. The preschool, elementary and middle school classes all have their own portals and entry procedures, which makes it yet more challenging. It finally settled into some sort of recognizable rhythm, but now it’s the last two weeks of school and all sorts of special meetings and ceremonies have entered the mix. On top of that is arranging the summer courses moved to online, keeping track of the ones I’m already teaching and when, etc. Without the “wheres,” it indeed is harder to keep track of.
The juggling balls in the air have reached a critical mass and it’s time to line them all up in a place where I can see and remember them, get them out of my head and onto some easily findable to-do list, calendar, schedule that I remember to check. I am grateful to have more to do than invent from scratch each day a way of ordering nothing I have to do, but I’m at the edge of the amount of commitments I can handle. But as Wendell Berry suggests, it’s less about the quantity of things and more about ordering them into coherence.
Lest he be misunderstood, let me say that Mr. Berry was talking about something much larger than cleaning your desk. I believe he was reminding us that the apparent chaos of the universe is actual an exquisite, complex and innate order that we are often incapable of seeing and appreciating. That we need to align our human order with the natural order. Here is the rest of the quote, from his book What Are People For?
Order is the only possibility of rest. The made order must seek the given order, and find its place in it. The field must remember the forest, the town must remember the field, so that the wheel of life will turn, and the dying be met by the newborn.
And with that in mind, off I go to clean my desk.