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Sitting

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We have some very good friends who decided to redecorate their home. As a couple, they divided the work according to their strengths; she did all the planning and doing and accomplishing, and his contribution was to not actively impede the process.

This is not all that uncommon or remarkable. I think I speak for most—if not all—of my male friends when I acknowledge that had we each never married, we’d all be living in a dimly lit apartment (possibly all in the same dimly lit apartment) with the same furniture we had in college. Among the abundant blessings we each enjoy for having married is that we live less like zoo animals than we otherwise would have. We have drapes, we have nice plates and spoons, and even things that serve no purpose but to just be there and make our homes look like homes.

But what I found so intriguing about my friends’ redecorating adventure was the contrast between the ferocity, clarity of purpose, and efficiency with which she tackled the project and, in the other extreme, his most modest of expectations:

“All I really want is a chair,” he confided in me one day.

“What do you mean you want a chair?” I asked. “Certainly your wife is not going to redo an entire house without chairs, is she?”

“Oh, no. Sure,” he acknowledged. “There are chairs, but I mean … you know, a regular chair. Just … a place to sit down.”

I found this so sad. Here’s my pal—a very bright and very successful businessman—who, when all is said and done, wanted/requested/expected/hoped for nothing more than to have, in his own home, one guaranteed quiet place to sit down.

And I felt his pain because I myself have, for a long time, hungered for nothing more than the chance to just sit down.

I’ve always been a fan of sitting. Started sitting as a kid, got more heavily into it when I got to high school. You know how that happens: You start off just sitting with your friends, for kicks, and pretty soon you don’t even need other people; you’re sitting every chance you get—any time of day and night.

But as I get older, I find I appreciate sitting more and more. Because when you’re a parent, the amount of time you get to actually sit diminishes progressively—while the need to sit only increases.

When you have kids, there is just always something—hundreds of somethings—to do. And doing these things invariably involves getting up to do them—the very opposite of sitting down.

When I was younger, I used to tease my father for falling asleep at the movies. I don’t think in his adult life he ever once saw an entire film through from beginning to end. It made no difference how good the film was—how long, how loud, how engaging—he just wouldn’t make it.

Well, like so many other things, I have, with age, come to understand my parents’ side of things more clearly and now find the shoe entirely on the other foot. My kids take bets as to how soon their old man will be asleep watching anything.

I believe sitting is very underrated. And I’m not just saying that because I’m good at it. Really, it offers everything you could ask from a physical activity. It can be reinvigorating and refreshing, yet it’s restful and safe. It lets you relax and think. It doesn’t hurt anybody else—unless you’re sitting on them. (And even that, in the right context, can be good.) You can do it alone, or in groups. It’s environmentally safe, it’s easy to learn, and can be done almost anywhere.

I even use sitting in my work. As an actor, you’re supposed to have a motivation in every scene. You’re meant to know, at every moment, what it is your character wants. As any of my colleagues who have ever worked with me will attest, my “character’s” motivation is virtually always “I want to sit down.”

Should my character already be seated, then, of course, I adapt. In such cases, my motivation is generally “Please don’t make me get up.”

I like to sit, is my point here.

I can’t say enough good things about it. Sitting also has a spiritual component. Do it right and you become mindful and appreciative of all aspects of the human condition. You often hear of meditative sitting poses, almost never of meditative “stand over there” poses. Why do you think that is?

There’s an implied sanctity associated with sitting. Think of anything important you’ve ever had to share. What do you say? “Let’s sit down and talk about it.” “I have to tell you something; are you sitting down?” It’s never “Get up and run around the room. Are you jumping? Good, because I have to tell you something.” No, because you know in your heart that sitting is the way to go.

Which is not to say I condone or am prescribing to a universal life of sloth. I certainly embrace the importance of exercise and activity. However, I could point out that a lot of terrible things in life might have been avoided had people simply sat down and stopped doing whatever it was they were doing when this terrible thing happened.

As a parent, I’ve moved beyond pro-sitting and become almost anti-moving. “Someone’s going to get hurt. Just … sit down” is perhaps the most frequently uttered phrase in my house.

Just as you almost never hear of a kitchen countertop running into a kid who was sitting nicely, so too do you rarely hear of an unhinged lunatic opening fire on his former coworkers while sitting nicely. It’s always the work of somebody standing up, moving around, and getting all agitated. Had he remained seated, perhaps thinking and reflecting a bit more thoroughly, tragedy would have almost certainly been avoided.

Now while it’s true that bad things could happen to you while quietly sitting, technically most sitting injuries involve getting into or out of the sitting position, not the actual sitting. Chairs have been known to be pulled out for laughs; knees have buckled, as have lower backs. But, generally speaking, once you’re seated, you’re pretty much out of the woods.

All of which is to say that if elected, I will work tirelessly to defend your right to sit, and vow to fight with all my powers the vast but unacknowledged anti-sitting lobby that works to dominate and destroy the fabric of our American life.

By the way, in case you’re wondering: my friend never did get his chair either. Side tables and bric-a-brac? You betya. A nice chair to sit down in? Not so much.

Excerpted from the book Familyhood by Paul Reiser. Copyright © 2011 Paul Reiser. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.

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