Just for a while

I like whiles; they are related to moments, which we discussed in an earlier blog in this series, and have little or nothing to do with nano-seconds or centuries. The dictionaries find a while hard to define, and tend to do it by reference to indefinite periods of ‘time’ or a certain period of ‘time’, and it has apparently always conveyed something of that meaning: it derives from Old English hwīl ‘period of time.’ Yet its usefulness, like that of our friend the moment, derives from its very vagueness. It’s very heavily used in conversation: I haven’t seen you for a while; They’ve been away for quite a while; I’ve been thinking of you all the while; I’ll just be a little while; It seems a long while since we met; ‘Once in a while, will you try to give one little thought to me?’

Then there’s the killer ‘Whiling away… what?’ The hours, the days, the time, the weeks? Whiling away ‘time’ is often used to mean ‘wasting’ time. This is a strange concept to me, because without making spaces to do things that look – to other people – like doing nothing, we would seriously damage our mental health. We need to be be more like this happy bear:

WHILING

There are moments when we need to float, life can’t be all butterfly stroke at record-breaking speeds. Be more bear. While you while away your moments, you’re recharging. Take a good while, as long a while as you need.

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