At the onset of the pandemic, I spent many nights awake. I read as many articles as I could, I watched every webinar possible on how to salvage my event planning firm, I sent emails, and I waited. I waited for that moment that signaled the end of the story — a definitive ending.
It never came.
The stress, the panic, the anger, the resentment, all of the tiny emotions that color an experience kept me so wound up I forgot how to unwind. I was, like so many others, at a constant point of tension. I researched ways to rest and found the usual guides on burnout management littered with corporate language aimed at making people productive again. I pored over PDFs and books that talked about rest as sleep and were directed primarily towards people in the middle class with upward mobility. It spoke to people who had no trauma or mental illness. It spoke to people who didn’t battle microaggressions of racism, queerphobia and other prejudices.
The more I read, the more I realized the better question is: Who gets to rest?
The hardest working people are the ones to which rest has been largely inaccessible. Domestic laborers, the undocumented, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, women, the list goes on. We deny ourselves rest to prove our value without questioning who taught us we had to do that anyway. We hustle day in and day out but at what cost?
The largest expense of “the grind” is ourselves. We lose formative moments with our families, risk declining mental and physical health, exposure to disease, viruses, and injury. We learned the grind from watching our parents wake before the sun to get the gold watch, only to watch them receive the pink slip.
Those same parents told us to work twice as hard to get half as far. But we never questioned if the destination was ever worth it.
It doesn’t help that in a city built on tourism and hospitality, most San Antonians cannot afford to rest. Three weeks into the pandemic, thousands of cars pulled into the San Antonio Food Bank. It wasn’t a matter of self-care at home because a sense of home had been decimated.
We praised essential workers and offered them very little in return. We’ve moved through this pandemic as if we’ve reached its conclusion and not evolution. Nothing is back to normal. It shouldn’t be. If we scraped and pushed through this pandemic without learning how to prioritize and care for each other, we’re doomed.
Because when we live in a culture that treats rest as a luxury rather than a necessity, our sense of self-worth gets damaged. We value people according to how hard they can be worked. We should value the person behind the work more than the work itself.
It’s so normal to be overworked we’ve made it seem like a desirable trait, something to be admired. It’s not if it costs us the most precious parts of our lives — our mental health, our physical health, and our time with the people we love.
For most people rest is sleep. It’s something you do on the weekends if you’re lucky. It’s something you can sprinkle in from time to time. We’ve treated rest like the boogeyman, avoid it at all costs. We joke about resting when we’re dead without hearing the full breadth of what we’re saying.
When you don’t prioritize your rest, you’re not prioritizing yourself. Rest has been glamorized as an aspirational commodity instead of the necessity and basic human right it is. But it’s not just for people in management jobs and luxury apartments. A culture of rest would shift the way we all see each other.
How can we rest as a city when we don’t prioritize it in our companies, small businesses, schools, and society at large?
Instead of treating this moment as a desperate plea to get back to normal, to move, to push, we need to rest. Rest in the moment and take a freaking break. Researcher Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith outlines 7 kinds of rest: sensory, social, spiritual, creative, mental, emotional, and lastly physical. What would it look like to prioritize people this way?
This requires implementing a culture of rest. All it takes to start normalizing rest is talking about it. Bring it up. Ask your family when they will rest. Ask your friends how they will rest. Communicate your rest needs and be open to receiving support for it the same way you’d be willing to give it. Does your friend need help with childcare so she can have a weekend to herself? Help coordinate that. Do you need a daily hour just for yourself? Have a family meeting to figure out ways to accomplish that. Do you need to create a boundary where work ends at a certain time and always at that time? Tell people and set an alarm.
When we stop making our rest negotiable, we teach ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers, and communities the importance of boundaries. Rest is a Trojan horse in that way.
Rest is really how we prioritize ourselves and our communities. Rest is how we heal.
So building a culture of rest where everyone feels safe, where service industry workers don’t feel like scapegoats and expendable players, cannot be something we treat as impractical or impossible. A culture of rest allows us to honor our needs and safety. A culture of rest doesn’t simply say people matter but demonstrates it.
I know what some of you are thinking. How can I tell the first-generation college student to rest? The nurse to rest? How can I tell the domestic worker with kids to feed and no insurance to rest? How can I tell everyone for which rest has been denied to start when there’s no structure of support to aid them?
Because minds shift before hands do. The more we talk about it, the more we open up about what we need, the more we show up for each other, the better solutions we can find. The less we treat rest for all as a radical concept.
It’s not radical to have sick leave, take a nap on Tuesday, or take a month off from work. It’s not improbable for those to be viable options for everyone either. The agility we demonstrated at the onset of the pandemic proves that. So instead of waiting to react to another tragedy, let’s be proactive and take the emotional, spiritual, physical, sensory, social, creative, and mental rest of our friends, neighbors, and ourselves seriously. Because pretending can only last for so long.
Pretending we’re fine has served no one. We need to not only support the rest of each other individually but find practical ways to make structural support available in our large corporations, small businesses, schools, city hall, nonprofits and hospitals. What’s necessary will never be impossible.
In Germany, the whole country takes a month off. The states stagger the dates so the whole country doesn’t shut down. Surely if a country of 83 million people can do it, a city of almost 1.5 million can as well.
What would it look like to have a city where no one had to ask for rest because it was embedded into the culture? What would it take to start? My dream starts with these questions. I have faith that sharper minds than mine can answer them.
Rest allows us to dream, to imagine, and see a world full of possibilities instead of its debilitating limitations. Let 2022 be the year we rest so we can dream again. Because we know all it takes is a dream to change the world.