Are you a dawdler? I am; have been since childhood. I’m not as good at it now as when I was young. Back then, I could get distracted by my toys for ages when I was supposed to be cleaning my room, or take an extra 20 minutes walking home from school choosing the handsomest fall leaves for my mom. Once I’d picked them up, I couldn’t put any down, for fear I’d hurt their feelings.

Still today, though, I revel in mornings when I can take my time eating breakfast — play a few Words with Friends games, do a couple of word puzzles, read an op-ed or two — as the minutes tick by unnoticed. Maybe I’ll raise my eyes and watch the hummingbirds darting back and forth between the feeders and the lilacs or admire the rose-breasted grosbeak eating sunflower seed, then go back to whatever unimportant task I was absorbed in.

Such idleness is both a privilege and a necessity to me. It’s a way of embodying the idea that life is about more than doing and my worth cannot be measured entirely in accomplishments. Achievements are also important and necessary, not just for survival, but also to build and sustain our sense of self-worth and connection to the world around us.

But the importance of idleness is overlooked in our culture. Indeed, it is antithetical to the American ethos. Though we do not think of them that way, I’m sure even the pioneers who settled the West had their idle moments. Watching a hawk fly over the vast stretch of plains, all the way to the farthest horizon. Contemplating a cow or a ewe taking care of her young.

Doing nothing — or at least nothing important — provides recreation for the mind, allowing it to slip into a different state than its workaday thinking mode. It reminds us that we are more than just producers or problem-solvers. We are part of the natural world. We have as much right to exist as other animals, and our lives, like those of every other creature on the planet, are sacred, valuable in and of themselves.

For me, this is either true for all life or none of it, and I can’t believe the latter.

As so often happens, these thoughts lead me back to Mary Oliver. In her poem, “The Summer Day,” she says,

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

This is practically a paean to dawdling, an apology for idleness. Oliver connects lack of productive occupation with blessedness. Of course, she’s not extolling mere frittering — the blessedness she feels is the fruit of paying attention, of “stroll(ing) through the fields” with her heart open to all that she encounters there. This is dawdling of a much higher order than my breakfast table activities.

But even my fooling about over breakfast allows me to enter at least partially the world Oliver inhabits. My attention is caught by the birds, I watch the sky, I breathe according to my own rhythm for a while, with no need to justify my life.

Sarah E. Reynolds is a former editor of The Republican Journal. She has lived in the Midcoast for about 20 years.