Posts Tagged ‘quiet’

I live in the middle of a bustling city: home to nearly four centuries of colonial history, more than 60 colleges and universities, thousands of residents from all over the world. Boston is a geographically compact city by American standards, but it’s still bigger and louder and more diverse than the West Texas towns where I grew up and spent my young adulthood. My neighborhood of Eastie is home to more than 40,000 people, and the airport lies a mere half mile from my front door.

When I moved here, I had to get used to the planes: normally they fly overhead so frequently that they form a kind of constant background noise. There are also buses and cars, delivery trucks rumbling through the shipyard, families out for a walk or scooter ride, parents walking their children to school. My neighborhood has a lot of dogs, and some days it’s like the Twilight Bark in the park near my house: one of them has something to say, and the others take it up like a canine game of telephone.

One of the most noticeable changes from the quarantine, so far, is the quiet.

The planes are still flying, but there are so few of them now that I can hear each one distinctly, as it flies overhead. There are no school buses, no kids walking to school in the mornings (though the afternoon walks and scooter rides are still happening, to save the parents’ sanity). The city buses and car traffic have settled down considerably. And sometimes, it’s so quiet that you can hear the church bells.

There are other sounds, both inside and out: the ticking clock in my kitchen, the crackle and hiss of the old radiators in my apartment, the tall white masts clanking gently in the shipyard down the hill. Sometimes I can hear the wind howling through the tree branches, whipping around corners. If I’m lucky, I hear children’s laughter and those barking dogs from the parks on either side of my house: a reminder that we’re all still here, even now. And the birds – blissfully unaware of everything except the springtime – are holding their own conversations, which are particularly noticeable these days.

In the absence of so much city noise, we can hear some things more clearly, and although the quiet also unnerves me a little, I’m trying to listen.

What are you hearing these days, where you are? I’d love to know, if you’d like to share.


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charles river cambridge sunset

Making Peace

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

I came across this poem (as I find so many lovely things) via the good folks at Image Journal. It strikes me, reading these lines, that peace – like magic – is something we must actively make.

Like Natalie Goldberg’s “holy yes,” peace is an act of creativity, grace and courage; it is not something that happens automatically. It is a choice, and a long process, and it can be hard, complicated and tiring. But it is also beautiful and necessary. In a world of loud arguments and urgent headlines, it is perhaps more necessary than ever.

May I – may we all – learn to be peacemakers in these days.

hancock tower protest boston refugees

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pei sandstone cliffs

The shore road was “woodsy and wild and lonesome.” On the right hand, scrub firs, their spirits quite unbroken by long years of tussle with the gulf winds, grew thickly. On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the track in places that a mare of less steadiness than the sorrel might have tried the nerves of the people behind her. Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared the gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight.

“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, rousing from a long, wide-eyed silence.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

pei north rustico harbour

On our recent return to PEI, the hubs and I stayed in a tiny village on the Island’s north shore. We were just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in one direction and the harbor (above) in the other. And though we did a bit of driving around the Island (lunch in Summerside one day, dinner in Charlottetown another night), we spent most of our time as close to the water as possible.

“You’ve made a beach bum out of me,” J said recently. I laughed and pointed out that I didn’t do anything: our trips to San Diego and PEI are wholly responsible for that change. The red beaches of PEI’s north shore, in particular, have completely captured our hearts.

pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

The Island’s north shore is quieter than the south; there are fewer towns, more long, unbroken stretches of beach. These comprise plenty of soft red sand (the Island soil contains so much iron that it oxidizes on contact with the air), and an occasional outcrop of sandstone cliffs (as in the photo at the top of this post).

I love visiting both the sand shore and the rock shore that L.M. Montgomery writes about in Anne’s House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside, but for spending an afternoon, the sand shore is my favorite. The sky is wide and open, the far red cliffs topped with lush green. As for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I have to quote Jane Stuart: “I never thought anything could be so blue.”

gulf of st lawrence beach pei

We took a guided kayaking trip around the north shore one night, which was exhausting but wholly enjoyable, and a couple of late-evening walks to watch the sunset. But mostly we sprawled out on the sand with our books, getting up occasionally to splash in the shallows or toss the Frisbee. We came home with sand in the folds of our shorts and tote bags, but I didn’t mind. Those hours on the north shore, walking through the foamy waves and sinking into the sand, restored my soul.

katie pei beach

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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sunset sky west texas

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

I don’t know much of Kenyon’s work, but I love this poem, with its simple imagery and the quiet comfort of the last lines.

April is National Poetry Month, and I have been sharing poetry here on Fridays this month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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brookline advent sunday

On Saturday morning, after Turkeypalooza, J and I went up to the church to decorate for Advent. Our friend Bob had made his annual nursery pilgrimage to pick up the wreaths, pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen, but it turned out the nursery workers forgot the greenery. So we set out the flowers then, and put the greenery up the next morning, right before service started, as people drank coffee and greeted guests and chased their kids around the back of the church.

I wandered around with flowerpots and a roll of packing tape in my hands, dirt and pine sap on my fingers. We did not start remotely on time (though we never do, if we’re honest). And J was fighting a chest cold as he led singing. But the notes of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” soared through the building, as hopeful and aching as they are every year.

On Monday, I made it to Morning Prayers for the first time in months, slipping into a high-walled box pew in Memorial Church as the choir sang. I recited the Lord’s Prayer with the other congregants, and stumbled through an unfamiliar Advent hymn. As I walked through Harvard Yard on my way to the office, I hummed a different tune: Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free…

I’ve pulled out my Advent book, Watch for the Light, for what I think is the 14th year. It is a little battered by now, and I am not making myself read every single word this year. I am dipping in when it suits me, turning to favorite pieces by Henri Nouwen and Kathleen Norris and Gail Godwin, letting their words wake me up, letting them sink in and rest a while.

christmas tree

We’ve put up our tree (above), hung the stockings and mistletoe, bought our annual supply of mint M&Ms, even wrapped a few gifts. But even so, things still feel hopeful, expectant. We are easing into Advent, trying (always trying) to pay attention, to savor a bit of stillness in these days before the exaltation of Christmas.

I am turning to the words of Isaiah and the Gospels, clinging to their promises as to a solid rock in an unsteady world:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

I have heard those words all my life, and I know I still don’t understand their full meaning. But every Advent, I try to slow down a little, and listen.

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When it’s all too much


My mom used to tell me, over and over again: “You can’t do everything.”

I am only now starting to believe her.

I was a super-involved child and teenager, by my own choice. Piano lessons. Spelling bees. Marching band. A student diplomatic organization. Lots of church activities, in addition to classes and homework. I treasured my solitude even then, holed up with a book or my journal, but I treasure community too, and I never want to be left out. I struggle with saying no to anything that sounds appealing, even if I know I don’t have the time or energy for it.

Since moving to New England, I’ve learned how the daily grind can wear you down, even if you work in a beautiful place, even if you love your work and your colleagues. Sometimes weekends are for travel and exploring and brand-new adventures, but just as often, they are for puttering and sipping tea, for quiet afternoons and lots of rest.

Most of the time, I don’t mind taking a quiet weekend. But it’s harder when you’ve made plans and have to cancel them, when you’ve invested time and money and you have to cut those losses because you know it would be better to stay home and rest.

We had hoped to spend the upcoming long weekend in New York – a city I love, which endlessly fascinates me. We’d bought bus tickets and booked a cute little studio apartment in Brooklyn, even made plans for brunch with a friend. But about a week ago, we looked at each other and said: Let’s stay home.

This is my husband’s last week at the job he’s worked for three years, and while he is excited to be moving on to a new organization, he is saying lots of good-byes, and those are tiring. I am smack in the middle of a busy season at work: three or four events jammed up against one another, all in the space of two weeks. Add to that a work conference in Rhode Island (for me) and the death of a relative in Texas (for my husband), not to mention all the small daily details, and perhaps you will understand: we are tired.

It felt strangely adult to cancel our plans, the life equivalent of reaching for a healthy salad even though you’d rather order a steaming plate of salty, delicious, not-so-healthy fish and chips. We lost a bit of money, but the deciding factor was taking a clear-eyed look at our lives as they are right now, and choosing what we need over what we want.

This is a small issue, I know, in the grand scheme of things. There will be other New York weekends, other chances to explore and sightsee, other adventures. We did not give up anything permanent, and this was in no way a life-or-death decision.

Still, it feels important, and grown-up: realizing we can’t do everything, and choosing not to try. Rather, we are choosing to rest and renew, so we can come back to our everyday lives with energy, grace and even joy.

Do you struggle with saying no, or with choosing to rest?

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tealuxe iced chai sunglasses

Morning at Tealuxe: iced chai and some quiet writing time.

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Too much input

This morass, I thought then, must be a symptom of too much input. Move toward a place so small that everything could be known.

—Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life

I realize this quote doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on its own. But the phrase “too much input” has stuck with me ever since I read it in Kimball’s lovely memoir on farming and love (along with its words about satisfaction and success).

yellow tulips

Kimball found herself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options in the world – where to live, where to work, whom to date, how to build a life that would sustain and nourish her. She found solace, eventually, by moving to a rural area and focusing on what she could see and feel: an old farmhouse, a few acres, a gaggle of assorted farm animals.

She admits her own folly in thinking she could know everything about her new home: its deep layers of complexity render it still mysterious, a decade later. But as her horizons narrowed in some ways, she found herself living with more intention, more focus, less distraction, even as her to-do list grew by leaps and bounds. (The work on a farm is literally never done; as the granddaughter of two sets of farmers, I watched this truth play out during all my childhood summers.)

I often find myself bewildered, overwhelmed, by the number of possible choices on any given day: where and what to eat, which groceries to buy (Organic? Local? In season? None of the above?), how to dress, which book or blog or tweet to read next. I worry about making the right choices, as if there were one best answer to everything. And everyone, from my family and friends to the great clamoring chorus of the Internet, has an opinion.

Too much input. Maybe, then, the answer is to pull back a little.

I love the community provided by my online life, and I love the vibrancy of working in a bustling city neighborhood. But I need more quiet, less input, more space for pondering and mulling, in my life. I am not sure what that looks like: a social media fast, closing the computer at a certain time every night, going to bed earlier, making more time to journal. Perhaps all of the above.

I am not in a position right now to make a literal move to a smaller place (though I miss the ease of knowing and being known in the small Texas towns where I grew up). But reducing the volume of input, clearing those channels to clear my mind and spirit? That sounds awfully good to me.

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(Source: the makeup blogger)

Sarah posted this back in October, and I printed it out and taped it into the front of my journal, intending to memorize the whole thing. I admit I didn’t get far, but the first sentence has been resonating in my soul ever since. (And it reminds me of a favorite teacher, who loves this poem.)

Max Ehrmann’s words (he’s the author) are also in keeping with this week’s theme of quiet. So may you find some quiet, some cheerfulness, and all the other lovely things this poem promises, this weekend.

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There’s lots going on around here, behind the scenes. Lots of reading (as always) and book reviews; a fair amount of freelance work; still catching up on laundry and sleep from our fabulous (and yummy) trip to New York; finally taking the Christmas decorations down. And some hard stuff, too: family illness on both sides, and the news of a seven-year-old boy’s death from leukemia. (We didn’t know Liam, but his family goes to our church in Texas and I used to work with his grandmother, and many of our friends are grieving.)

We’ve also been (finally) getting some snow – which I love (in small amounts) because it blankets the world with that quiet, clean, fresh feeling of peace. And I’ve been feeling like it’s time to take a step back, to post regularly but not daily for a while, to take some time for silence, to rest and think and write without having to hit “publish” or schedule a post for each weekday.

With that in mind, I’ll be blogging three times a week, instead of five, for a while. I’m not going away – just making space for a bit of quiet, a shift to help me rest and find some new ideas, and (I hope) to find some peace.

See you on Wednesday, friends. And thanks for understanding.

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