What is Work? What is Rest?

I spent the other day driving around. First to the doctor, where he confirmed my self-diagnosis of bronchitis, and then across the county for an x-ray to eliminate pneumonia or another cause of my limited breathing. In addition to a course of antibiotics, my doctor prescribed at least 48 hours of rest. That was Wednesday.

I had a restless night.

Thursday, instead of working on things specified by my employer, I thought about work and rest. I suppose I could have just slept, since I’ve been tired for the past two months, but the brain is too active. It seems to me that the root cause of the illness is not an irritant to the lungs, but an impaired immune system response resulting from stress. This is what I want to fix, so when the doctor says to rest, what does he mean? It’s not like I can stop breathing a while and my lungs will magically fix themselves. What am I resting from?

We have varying ideas of work and rest, but here I’m concerned with the particular conception of work and the values surrounding it which I’ve picked up passing through life. The dictionary definition does not get to the heart of what troubles me. Instead, what is meant here is that work is strenuous activity and rest is no or limited activity. Where in that spectrum do sedentary activities, those with limited movement, fall? Or, to ask a slightly different question, what makes an activity not work? My job, for example, is sedentary. I sit in front of a computer all day, “doing nothing.” Judging from how tired I am at the end, it does use a lot of energy, even during meetings, so I might consider it a strenuous activity, though someone looking at it from the outside might consider it no work at all — which I know they do, because I’ve had that thrown at me. On the other hand, reading a good book or taking an interesting class might be as strenuous in terms of energy used as my paid labor, but leaves me feeling me feeling refreshed rather than exhausted.

It is not simply that work is hard and rest is easy, for hard work can be refreshing and inactivity exhausting. Nor, for the same reason, can they be considered opposites; rest is not simply not doing work.

I had a restless night, again.

As the joke goes, “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” “Stop doing that.”