“Action is the enemy of thought,” a Navy wife said me last night. She was telling me about how she stayed positive by keeping her daughter busy with ballet classes and swimming and art school and a dozen other things. She leaned in to tell me, “I got that from a movie.”
Something about the military wife quotes kept pinging me all evening. Action is the enemy of thought? Something about it spoke truth. Still is sounded….I don’t know. Troubling? Dangerous?
Surely this is just another way to phrase our number one piece of advice we give military spouses: STAY BUSY.
And I know that STAY BUSY works for my family. I know that we all do better when I keep the kids on a schedule and give myself plenty of my own life to live and actively engage with friends (even when I would rather stay in bed and listen to Madeleine Peyroux and, maybe, take up smoking.)
Yet I hate STAY BUSY. STAY BUSY sounds frenetic to me. STAY BUSY denies what it means to be lonely for someone you love who loves you back. STAY BUSY denies thought.
When I woke up this morning still thinking of that quote, I looked it up online. I found that it was from the Anthony Hopkins/Nicole Kidman movie The Human Stain. But when I looked a little deeper, I found that the actual quote came from Joseph Conrad, a Polish novelist who used his experience in the merchant marine to write about the trials of the human spirit in the midst of an indifferent universe.
The actual quote is: Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.
Maybe that is what is really true for military spouses. Action is consolatory for us. It makes us feel better. Action fills the empty places. Action pushes out fear and muddies loneliness. Action allows us to indulge in the belief that we aren’t really missing anything.
That is a flattering illusion. Because in our heart of hearts, we know we are missing something. We stay busy for our own reasons and push our thoughts away. Yet somehow we know that busyness is an illusion and we aren't fooling anyone. Even ourselves.