Pastoral

These days I find myself quiet, nearly mute. New house, new life, same me, but changing. It’s a strange mix of change and continuity. While the beauty is different, it is no less striking. “Pastoral” by William Carlos Williams is the best way I know to say it. These photographs help, from my daily walk with Lucy Lou.

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.
No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.

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“Pastoral” by William Carlos Williams from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams.
© New Directions, 1991.

 

 

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It’s cloudy. It’s morning. The house is silent. What? Silence? Okay, not quite. The air conditioner has already kicked on in response to the morning humidity. But really, other than that and the tapping of my fingers on these keys, it’s quiet.

The dogs soon startle me out of my thirty second reverie, alarming me to the presence of what? Probably our neighbor getting out with her tiny dog. Or the rabbit who likes to gnaw on what’s left of our backyard grass, leaving piles of tiny pellets the dogs first eat and then roll over repeatedly.

And then pound pound pound pound pound go Gabriel’s feet as he stumbles from my bed (to which he arrived at 6:45 this morning) searching for life beyond. I offer him some coffee. “Where daddy go? Jo-Jo doing?” I inform them they’ve left in search of cinnamon rolls. “Gaba go car too!” I convince him to get me a fresh diaper while I fetch the iPad, only to discover Jonah’s taken the iPad. I scramble for a replacement story. An episode or two of Mighty Machines on my phone will have to do. I retreat again to the hallway that has become my office, the silence augmented by conversing snowplows with Brooklyn accents discussing their plan for clearing the streets. 

Since my return from Kansas—which included attending my 20th class reunion—my consciousness has thankfully expanded (uh, not sure if consciousness can thankfully expand, but maybe you know what I mean). Somehow I truly got away. I rested, far enough from everyday life that I came back renewed. For this I must thank my family—my mother in particular, for taking care of Jonah on several occasions. My sister for hosting us so graciously at her home. My friend Dwayne for hanging with J while I traipsed around Wichita. And of course John, for taking G-duty solo for two weeks. All I mostly had to worry about was where I was going to pick up morning coffee. Which gave me the liberty to just relate—without chasing a kid or planning for dinner or being on time for a therapy appointment or finding time to mow the lawn.

It was a kind of unencumberance I guess you could say, which led to a sense of remembrance. An attention that remains with me now as the Mr. Mulch truck passes by the house a second time, searching for his delivery address. It’s as though I have reentered a larger community, expanding the circle our family makes. The attention feels like prayer.

But G’s moved on to Blues Clues and it’s nearly 10 a.m. and no one’s had breakfast. There’s no unanchoring from this world of hungry stomachs and dirty clothes. As it probably should be, whether I feel up to it or not.

The Writing

“At the moment the writing is the one thing that gives me access to some real silence and solitude. Also I find that it helps me to pray because, when I pause at my work, I find that the mirror inside me is surprisingly clean and deep and serene and God shines there and is immediately found, without hunting, as if He had come close to me while I was writing and I had not observed His coming. And this I think should be the cause of great joy, and to me it is.”

Thomas Merton, from his Journals

Still, Waiting

Yesterday I had an appointment. Nevermind that I arrived uninformed of particularly important—nay—imperative instructions, the lack of which forced me to leave (after about thirty minutes of waiting) without being examined. (Okay, okay—it was a consultation for lasik eye surgery and no one told me I couldn’t wear my contacts for a WEEK prior to the appointment. Something about getting correct eye measurements.) Now that I’ve got that out of my system…

The kind of marvelous thing about my time there was the waiting room. Yes, you heard me right. It was gloriously quiet. Not library quiet. Not even middle of the night everyone’s sleeping quiet. This place some how, some way, immediately settled my soul. There were other people waiting. A boy and his mother. A gentleman with a satin jacket reminiscent of Grease, with accompanying (and complementary) heavy gold chains. Two older fellows that struck up a conversation about the wonders of automobile factories. Even in the midst of their talking (they weren’t particularly quiet), the stillness prevailed.

These days, waiting rooms seem to be just another way to blast us with news or trashy T.V. or advertisements for the latest procedures and products or educational infomercials about a better diet/diabetic markers/how to take care of a child with a cold…It’s ridiculous. And maddening. Because you have little or no control over the environment. You’re a captive audience, and they are (whoever “they” are) taking blatant advantage of you being, well, trapped like cats. Maybe they think you need entertaining to keep you from lashing out at the nurses and doctors who are invariably keeping you waiting. Usually, it’s about selling something. Tack onto that the incessant buzz of fluorescent lights, and it can (subconsciously, at least) feel like a full blown assault.

But this was an untouched place. I realize this sounds a little silly. I try not to make a habit of hitting people over the head with my experience of spirituality, but when you experience something so Real, well, I think it does some good to say so. On that morning, on that day, in my particular frame of mind, I entered a place I haven’t touched upon in what seems like a very long time. Silence.

As the Swiss philosopher Max Picard writes in The World of Silence:

Silence contains everything within itself. It is not waiting for anything; it is always wholly present in itself and it completely fills out the space in which it appears…Silence is not visible, and yet its existence is clearly apparent. It extends to the farthest distances, yet is so close to us that we can feel it as concretely as we feel our own bodies. It is intangible, yet we can feel it as directly as we feel materials and fabrics. It cannot be defined in words, yet it is quite definite and unmistakable.

Since that day there’s been a palpable internal shift in me. It’s almost like I’ve met up with a very old, dear friend I hadn’t seen or communicated with in years. Why it is that I can access this friend now—why I’ve gone so long without her presence when she was seemingly near as the air I breathe—I can’t say. Receptivity is as strange and intangible as silence itself. But I am tangibly grateful. Just ask my lungs.