Say No by Saying Yes

Sunday is a day for reading poetry.  No?  Not in your case?  Ah well, it is in mine.  I read a poem called “Look Out” a couple Sundays ago by Wendell Berry and there’s a line from it that’s still reverberating.   I will spare you the entire poem but this is the last stanza…

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

montanaOn Sundays we attempt to observe a day of rest.  A chance to regroup and get our bearings.   Jason and I have been doing this for over 13 years now and it’s taken on different configurations throughout our life together.  When we were newlyweds living in our tiny apartment on Cacique Street in Santa Barbara, we would turn our clocks around and light a bunch of candles (easy to accomplish when we lived in a one-room place with two clocks and no kids).  Nowadays it involves the boys, just one candle and we focus on resting as a fam without the distractions of work and screens and school.

It’s hard for all of us.  Every week.  The boys know that Sundays = no screens and they bemoan the loss of Woody the Woodpecker, Oscar’s Oasis and Fruit Ninja.  Jason and I likewise skip screen time which means no work, no Facebook, no I’m-bored-got-5-minutes-to-kill Pinterest perusing.

I wish I could say that it’s easy to rest and stop working and writing and internetting.   I wish that I didn’t have to fight the urge to check my phone all the live long day, eager for the dopamine rush that comes when I see a new message or alert.  But it’s hard to quiet the pull and the allure of social media, the constant connectedness and instant distraction when it’s what I feed myself all week long.  It’s like constantly eating junk food and then quitting cold turkey with a crude crash diet.  But this is where the Wendell Berry poem  and that one pesky line that keeps bubbling to the surface of my mind come into play.

Say no by saying yes

Instead of lamenting all that I imagine I am giving up when I say no to screens and work and the go go go of the rest of the week, I can focus instead on what I gain by saying yes.  It’s easier to say no to Twitter when it means saying yes to a walk along the Sound with my family on a Sunday afternoon.  It’s easier to say no to email and Facebook and that vague sense of connection when it means saying yes to a good conversation with Jason or the genuine connection found in breaking bread with friends.   When I think about what I’m saying yes to, it’s a lot easier to say no without the usual feelings of frustration or the illusion of loss.


It’s pouring over into other places in my life as well.  What am I saying yes to with my work, my family, my writing, my friends, my kids, my community?  And to what do I need to say no in order that I might say yes?   It goes hand in hand with what I shared a few weeks ago about not wanting to succeed at the things in life that don’t really matter.   I want to embrace the things in life that do matter and release my tightly clenched fist on all the rest.

I want to say YES

I want to say yes to people.  I want to say yes to uninterrupted, all-in time with Isaiah during our lunch hour together.  That means I have to say no to putting my phone out on the counter while we’re eating. I want to say yes to hearing about Gryffin’s day at school so I have to say no to work and the lure of my laptop after 3:45pm.  I want to say yes to phone calls with my sister, Facetime with my folks, leading our community group, connecting with neighbors and having time with Jason in the evenings.  That might mean saying no to Words with Friends or House of Cards or my oft-sought, much-cherished alone time.

I want to say yes to reading.  That means that after the boys are in bed I have to say no to squeezing in one more load of laundry, no to the quick-scan-that-turns-into-40-minutes of Facebook, no to researching various medical maladies on webMD so that I can say yes to poetry, yes to stories and novels and thought-provoking essays, articles and non-fiction.

I want to say yes to beauty and expansiveness and being outdoors, even though that means I must sometimes say no to holing up again at home.  I want to say yes to camping and hiking and swimming and throwing rocks into Lake Washington; yes to “the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”*

I want to say yes to good health even though it sadly means saying no to my beloved, admittedly gargantuan vat bowl of ice cream after dinner.  I want to say no to laziness and fatigue by saying yes to a workout or a walk after dinner.

I want to say no to being cool and aloof and mysterious by saying yes to vulnerability, warmth, and kindness.

I want to say no to fear and smallness and despair by saying yes to courage and openness and hope.

I want to say no by saying yes.

Yes, yes, yes.



*from Into the Peace of Wild Things (another Wendell Berry poem)