They’ve gone. In a clatter of lunchboxes, a flash of new shoes, the quick zip of backpacks, the children have gone to school. The house is unnaturally quiet. The dog looks up at me, takes the situation in, then shambles to her pillow, turns three circles, and settles in with a sigh. “It’s just us,” I confirm her suspicions. She looks up once. Then rests her nose on her paws. All summer, my house has been abuzz with action. Neighborhood kids, moving in packs, descend like locusts at lunchtime. There’s balls bouncing and the hose going and scooter wheels click-clacking on the sidewalk. There’s teenage boys raiding my pantry. There’s a half-dozen water glasses on the counter that I sweep into the dishwasher only to find another half-dozen sprout in their place. There’s chalk on my driveway and an array of bikes tangled in the grass. At times, there’s sudden shouts, demands, and tears, oft-punctuated by the plaintive cry: “Mom!”
All this. And then one day, there’s quiet. I can hear a bug tick against a window pane, the rhythmic click of the solar-powered Good Fortune cat that waves in a pool of sun on the kitchen sill. The refrigerator hums.
For most of this past year, I’ve been estranged from writing, and hence from some of the interior spaces I only reach through writing my way to them. When I’m intermittent with this practice of scratching at words, I find the paths quickly overgrow and I wake up – as it were – “in the middle of my life, in a darkwood, and the straightforward pathway is totally lost.”
I have a sense that all the tender sensibilities in me which are capable of responding to the play of the Spirit, have calcified and grown coarse from disuse.
Have you experienced these moments? The sense you’ve diminished, you’ve lost your way to some part of you that is, at once, expansive and finely-wrought. At times like these, exiled from the best parts of myself, my spirit feels crouched and limited.
My mind canvasses my environment for props: a quick check on news headlines, a brief dash through Instagram. But like all sham palliatives, the effect is illusory. In a moment, silence reasserts itself, like a bracing wind full in my face.
I realize I have only two choices: to continue the distraction-seeking behavior – a host of enticing possibilities immediately suggest themselves (podcasts, a run with the dog, even laundry – Wow, I must be desperate) – or I can open a blank document, lean into the discomfort, and begin the humble task of applying myself to silence’s tutelage.
But when I’ve chosen silence, I’m immediately greeted, not by peace and a sense of fitness, but by the internal critic who questions everything from my sentence structure to my basic worthiness. This voice stridently opines that those fugitive brushes with the holy that writing has, at times, been my means of encountering, are gone. The track has gone cold. It will never be resurrected.
In a letter in October 1813, Jane Austen wrote, “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” The process of spinning gold from the straw of our days is hard-won. I think of how many things in life I could substitute into Ms. Austen’s advice: I’m not in the humor for eating my vegetables, for sitting in quiet prayer, for caring for my crotchety neighbor, for lacing up my tennis shoes and going for a run. The remedy is the same: do it anyway.
The point is that the opportunity to know ourselves, to touch in with what is true and best in us, to be like trees planted by streams of water, as the Psalmist says, is a work of persistence, commitment, and sweat (whether that’s physical, mental, or spiritual). It requires we go into the unwelcome quiet. It invites us to develop a discipline, or several. And when the winds of our humor are against us, to lean in and meet them full in the face.