Usually when people talk about the importance of rest, I’m like…who?
I listen when people tell me it’s important. I try to convince myself of it too. But every weekend and every evening I have the same tug-of-war with myself over whether I’m actually willing to put it into practice.
I blame this on a few things. First, my father was self-employed and worked constantly. Second, my grandfather worked on a farm until his late 70s. Third, there is nothing my Mexican-America family shit-talks about more than people who are “lazy.” Fourth, being a teacher taught me to abuse myself in so many ways, including overworking. Fifth, being hyper productive is a symptom of my anxiety.
Overworking has been the norm in my life but it’s also a characteristic that has been passed down through generations. Other Latinx people, other BIPOC, and other descendants of immigrants may recognize this need to over perform and how it often stems from viewing the U.S. as a meritocracy even though it isn’t one. There’s this false belief among BIPOC, as well as white supremacists, that only BIPOC with certain characteristics have value.
We’ve seen this bullshit opinion in the national discourse as recent as this week.
And it’s this notion that reinforces the fact that BIPOC must be perfect in order to be accepted. We have to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave. We have to be the model employee who never asks for a raise and never complains about what we’re getting paid. We have to do the work no one else wants to do. We have to be polite and full of gratitude.
We have to adopt western affinities for capitalism even though it’s killing us. We have to work ourselves to the bone in the hopes that our children may be able to move up a single rung on the ladder of success. We must rid ourselves of our own definition of success and adopt someone else’s. Then we must strive for it until the day we die.
When my father died, what impacted me the most was all of things he never got to do. He never got to retire. He never got to rest.
It haunts me.
But there’s another apparition; other ghosts that send a chill down my spine. My ancestors–every person who has come before me and worked and worked and worked so that I could be higher up on the ladder. How can I tell them that the ladder isn’t real? That I’m getting off. That I don’t want to play this game anymore.
I want to step off the ladder.
I want to smash it to pieces and set it on fire so no other family can hang their hopes on it. So no other person can cling to it with white knuckles. So no other person can feel like a failure.
I feel the words against my ear. Another ghost. Warning me not to step off the ladder. Pleading with me to climb higher. To carry the people I love on my back.
But I want to rest, I think. I just want to rest.
Rest, they say. Who is that?