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An only partially grumpy appreciation of the rare experience of silence

The wording on the can of cashews is perfectly clear - "Store in a cool, dry place." I can read them from my desk chair, because the can is resting atop a precarious stack of paperwork, computer disks and photos, which in turn are resting atop my scanner. The scanner lies directly in the path of a wide beam of 90+ degree sun which angles in through my south-facing skylight for most of the morning. I'm eating the cashews for breakfast, and pondering the well-lit words.

The cashews, which have rested on that scanner for several days now, are not hiding in a cool, dry place because they don't have to be - my kids are gone for the summer, having fun with their dad down in the Tri-Cities, so the cashews are safe from their little, thieving fingers. Those same children call me as I'm munching away on my protein-rich, morning meal and tell me how hot it is down there in the Washington desert. I smile and give a nod they can't see, saying, "that's great," and neglect to mention that we're experiencing a summer like they've dreamed of their entire lives here in northern Idaho - hot days full of sunshine, perfectly designed for kids out of school to play around in the water at the pilings; to speed on bicycles up cool, mountain trails to the cave whose location they keep hidden from me; to run themselves prostrate with heat stroke playing tackle football on the high school lawn. "Must be fun," I mumble and crunch.

I don't like it when my kids are gone. I'm certainly not a natural-born mother, but God took pity on me for that and gave me some incredible children - I love having them around. Usually when they go - and they've been going for six years or so now - I get depressed. The house is too quiet, there's not enough laundry to do, everything stays too clean and I have much too much time on my hands. But six years, I decided, was enough. My children need time with their father - need those experiences only he can give them. Their summer visits are a good thing, I told myself, and I'm going to quit being depressed while they're gone.

It took a much larger percentage of my adult life than it should have to figure out I get to choose how I feel - and I don't have to choose to feel bad. Sometimes, though not very often anymore, the responsibility of that power overwhelms me, and I find myself avoiding making choices so as to enjoy (yes, enjoy) my misery and self-pity. I was determined not to do that to myself this time, however, so as we all gathered at the train depot in Sandpoint, waiting for the midnight train that would take my children away from me, I thought of the things I could do while they were gone, put my focus on what was positive about this time in my life.

"Well, I don't really have to eat," I mused. Sometimes I think the worst part of being an adult is figuring out what to fix for dinner - and now, I could have six or seven weeks of not thinking about it at all. There were salad makings in the refrigerator, munchies in the pantry, and a whole county full of restaurants to choose from, not to mention plenty of friends I could visit at dinnertime. Not only that, I could skip a few meals if I chose to - and given how flabby I've been getting lately, skipping a few meals wouldn't hurt me in the least.

Laundry day can be limited to one day a week - instead of every day of the week. I can stay late in town and not feel guilty. I don't have to help anyone with their homework. I can go places without loading the car with as many children as can fit - because you never get to take just your own children anywhere. I could go hiking EVERY SINGLE NIGHT after work. "This could be fun," I found myself thinking.

The first day of no children dawned and I dragged myself out of bed and over to the coffee pot. I forced myself to do my morning stomach crunches and stretches while I listened, somewhat grumpily, to the silence in my house. "Hmm," I thought. "You're not starting out very well."

Silence. That's the one thing I really never experience. My house is many things, most of which I enjoy very much, but silent isn't one of them. "I need to enjoy this," I told myself, and folded my legs into the lotus for some serious meditation. I lasted about two minutes. My brain was working at high speed and what it was working on was how my house was just too darn quiet.

Still, I resolutely refused to turn on the CD player… for two weeks. No Sheryl Crow to wake me up. No Johnny Horton and John Coltrane to calm me down. No Les Mis to dance around the house to and no Beatles to sing in harmony with while I pound away at the computer. No Merle Haggard, no Natalie Merchant, not even any Simon and Garfunkel, though they have the perfect song to go along with silence. 

The daily "meditation" has stretched longer each day and I can just about turn my mind off completely, and relax in the moment. It's a talent I am completely unsuited for, but something I find gives me power and strength throughout the day. I've learned, over the years, to live for the moment I'm in, but never before have I done it so well.

All the things I thought I would do have gone undone - instead, I await each day to learn what opportunities will unfold. My planning calendar has gone unused and I find my days are just as full without it - and that sometimes they're filled with unexpected things. There's been moonrise far out on the lake… dinner at the Cabinet Mountain with my mother… long conversations with friends in the starlight… endless tosses of the tennis ball as the dogs leap eagerly into the lake to retrieve it...two trips to see the Pirates of the Caribbean... early mornings in total silence. 

It's not that I don't make any plans; Laura and I are going out to pick slate, the Festival is coming up, and a whole group of us are hiking up to Rock Lake next week. There's still work and meetings and deadlines I have to meet. There are events to go to and always, a paper to put out. But there's also a freedom that never comes on a calendar page, that can only be found when we make the time to listen to the sound of silence. I'm listening now.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

parenting, Politically Incorrect, silence, solitude

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