After the appropriate amount of lingering at the café on the day in Germany when we planned to do nothing, we headed back to the apartment. Every other day on this trip has been about movement: rushing around, seeing the big sights and even some of the small villages in our area. But either way, we spent a good part of the day in our rental car.
On this day of doing “nothing,” there was something fulfilling about even the simple tasks – like laundry – that normally are more of a nuisance on a trip. When we got back to the apartment, I washed some clothes (a certain pair of pants with cow spit in particular) and then enjoyed playing catch with my 15-year-old son (who somehow managed to fit a ball and two baseball gloves into his carry-on bag).
By this time, it was late afternoon and the light was wonderful, so I left the family to do nothing around the apartment while I drove off to photograph the town’s famous old church and cemetery.
That seemed like a nothing kind of way to spend the remainder of the day. I wandered around the otherwise empty cemetery until I encountered an elderly lady refreshing the flowers of a grave. She looked at me and beckoned me over. I expected to get a scolding for taking pictures in a cemetery – I’m never sure on local customs on that sort of thing. Instead, she asked me if I smoked; rather an odd question in such a place.
I told her no. She nodded and then, sensing the strangeness of her question, she explained that she needed a match to light a candle on the grave she was so carefully sprucing up. Unlike cemeteries here where you may see an occasional set of flowers or a flag, this cemetery was adorned with fresh flowers, small sculptures (lots of tiny angels), candles, bowls of water and all sorts of other additives to the ornate tombstones.
I told her I was sorry, but I had no matches. Again, she nodded and moved back toward the grave. I turned to leave, then remembered I had some matches in our car (old Boy Scout habits – “Always Be Prepared” – die hard). I returned to her and told her I’d be glad to run to my car and get the matches there.
Our conversation to this point had been very formal. When I made this offer, however, she softened, became grandmotherly. She seemed genuinely surprised and touched by, what to me, was a simple courtesy on my part.
She thanked me profusely but told me it wasn’t necessary.
I told her it was no trouble. She insisted I not bother, that she lived just over there (she pointed down the hill) and that she had to come back tomorrow anyway. I sensed that visits to this gravesite were a regular occurrence for her. I relented. But as I walked away, I realized that my simple offer – one that, like this day, seemed like nothing – had become something more.
After that, I drove the mile or two back to our apartment and met up with my family. By this time, all this doing nothing had made us hungry. We walked around the corner to a quaint little restaurant we’d visited our first night in town. This night, when we walked in, the waitress who’d been so nice to us the first night greeted us like long-lost relatives. She even had the chef make a special farewell dessert just for us.
We didn’t do much this day of doing nothing. We didn’t see anything on the usual tourist maps. We had no plans. We didn’t rush. We just relaxed and took in what came our way.
We did a lot of nothing that day.
It was quite something.
You can read Part 1 here