Why Sunday Is the Best Day for an Existential Crisis

by Bill Murphy Jr.
Originally Published: 

I’ve always hated Sundays. Sticking with science fiction, in Life, The Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams relates the sad tale of an immortal being whose interminable existence only truly weighs down on him on Sundays, when the futility of it all comes crashing in and you enter what Adams calls “the long, dark teatime of the soul.” It’s a great phrase, and it requires no explanation. Everyone knows that feeling—the one that accompanies a Sunday afternoon, when you’ve done all the chores you can bear and you’re eating purely for the sake of it, all enthusiasm and energy having left you some time ago. I can’t speak for you lot out there in the colonies, but this “teatime of the soul” is particularly long and dark and depressing here in Britain.

What a Sunday is like growing up in Britain

When I was a child, Sundays were marathons of tedium. The idea of the day of rest originates of course in the book of Genesis, when God, fatigued from building the universe in six days, takes the seventh day off. (If he’s omnipotent, this of course raises questions—Why’d it take him six days? Why did he measure that time in days when time didn’t yet exist? And why did he need to take a day off?) And so, because of the Bible, no shops were open in Britain.

Deprived of consumerism and in desperate need of diversion, we turned on our television sets. In Britain when I was growing up, there were only four channels. Four channels! This meant that you watched what was on or you didn’t watch at all. Which would have been fine, only…Sunday television in Britain was the very, very worst.

There’d be a program about antiques, which, when you’re a child, might as well be a program about dust. Then there’d be part 134 of a 546-part drama about the effects of the English Civil War on a small town just outside Canterbury. Then there’d be the famously difficult and boring quiz show Mastermind, where you’d watch librarians, pale as vampires, answer questions about the history of cutlery. Then—crowning horror—there’d be an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, which is almost impossible to explain if you haven’t actually witnessed it. Allegedly a comedy, this series revolved around three old men walking around Yorkshire and occasionally sitting down. In the last five minutes one of them would inevitably climb into some sort of homemade contraption and crash it into a tree, accompanied by gales of canned laughter. It seemed to be part of a sinister plot by the BBC to make the nation’s children actually look forward to school the next day. Usually at this point my patience would snap and I’d go to bed, dejected and defeated.

Sundays as an adult and other shattered dreams

As a grownup I imagined Sundays would be different, but I was wrong. Multi-channel television, the advent of Sunday trading and any number of groovy modern distractions have not robbed Sunday of its central, nullifying power. If anything, these things have only made Sunday stronger, a fact you can reflect upon as you trudge round a farmer’s market buying artisanal cheese, or queue at a garden centre clasping the plastic outline of a pond. (Can there be anything more bleak, existentially speaking, than buying one of those plastic linings for a pond? You’re buying a hole. You’re literally buying nothing.) Sunday infects all that it touches.

© Flickr/Chiot’s Run

Why, then, is Sunday so bad? After being forced to spend 1/7th of my life in the infernal zone, I have reached a few tentative conclusions, and it is here that I can finally present my shocking findings. Sunday is bad because it’s a day of freedom. That’s right. Sunday is the one day when we can do exactly as we wish, when we are free of proscribed fun and obligations. It is the one day when we truly have the chance to meet ourselves. And this is the problem. Sunday is a mirror. It forces us to look directly at ourselves, and to answer that one, terrible question, the question that we spend our lives evading, jamming our fingers in our ears so as not to hear. That infinite question—”What do I want to do?”

Freed of all restrictions, liberated of all responsibilities and obligations, given half a chance—what do I want to do? What do I really, really want to achieve? What do I actually want out of my time on Earth? Not “What do I think I should want?” or “What am I expected to want?” but “What do I really want?” And this, of course, is itself connected to that even larger question, the one that dogs us for our entire lives and remains forever an insoluble puzzle: “Who am I?”

Understandably, human beings hate these questions. They shine so brightly that most of us shrink away from them, dazzled. Weekdays provide us with easy answers—we all have work to do, so we’re not bothered by questions of who we are. Given time to ponder these matters, we gratefully flee into roles that, while perhaps not enjoyable, are certainly comfortable. And so we settle back into easily-understood narratives—shopping, gardening, being hung over—anything to avoid answering those terrible, terrible questions. Who am I, you say? Why, I’m the woman getting angry in the supermarket! I’m the man mowing the lawn! We’re the bored family going on a long drive! And so on.

So that’s my theory. We hate Sunday because it gives us a taste of freedom. We hate Sunday because it wants us to live and breathe and play and create. It wants us to be better people. It wants us to have crazy sex, go snowboarding, write that novel, play in a jazz band, change the world. It wants us to exist more fully. It gives us empty time and sees what we will make of it.

Thanks but no thanks, Sunday. Now leave me alone. I have to dig a hole for this plastic pond lining and then sob quietly to myself.

photo: Flickr/Alan

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