I am a man who craves quiet as much, or more, than the music I love. I find the press of time depleting and, when I go too long without silence, I begin to run out of words, even out of thoughts. I don’t mean all thoughts. For sure my mind is filled with all sorts of thoughts. Thoughts of things to do. There is laundry, there are bills, there is yard work, there are a myriad number of things that shout at me. Change the oil, clean the gutters, rake the leaves.
I was made for quiet. Any good musician knows that the strength of a piece of music comes from the silent spaces within the composition. When I was fourteen and fifteen I used to ride my ten-speed, and listen to the rush of the wind past my ears. I would gaze into the sunlight filtered through the tops of the pine trees to the music made by the clicking of my derailleur as I shifted gears.
When I found the right place, I would dismount and walk my bike to a grassy spot and lay it down. Stretching out on my back, resting my head on the saddle, I would look into the sky and watch the clouds. And listen. And listen some more. Stillness has always been a balm to my soul.
In those moments, I found music. Natural music. The trill of cicadas, the anthems of birds. The distant barking of dogs and the excited, innocent chatter of children. To be still in the center of the music of life was to drink deeply of a nourishment my soul hungered for. To be silent in the presence of life’s concerto was to be thrilled, and comforted. To submerge into the moment was to be free of the need to be meaningful. Significant. And in that freedom, to simply be. That revelation of being released me from the burden of doing. And in that revelation, I found significance.
Today was set apart for writing. And yet, I could not go straight at it. My darling wife left for work at noon and the plan was for me to go my office and write. But there were a couple of things to do first. I ran my errands and returned home. The afternoon and evening were before me. I was supposed to go straightway to the keyboard. But I was empty.
There are times when it becomes impossible to do the next thing. We live in a world that prides itself on doing. A world that finds its value in performance, in accomplishment. I once had a friend of mine tell me that he was more comfortable in his accomplishments than in his relationships. It was a moment of self-discovery for him.
I found my way to the porch. My bike was there. And although I did not lay it down, I thought of it as I cast my glance to the sky. The afternoon sun was filtered through the leaves of the oaks and pines behind the house. It brought to mind a phrase Van Morrison has used more than once, “a golden autumn day.”
I sat. I listened. The crickets were there. The distant barking of a dog was there. The rustling of a squirrel amongst the fallen leaves in the yard was like the whisper of a lover. I talked to God and waited. I found the silence reassuring. He was present, and that was all that mattered. Occasionally a bird would dart across the evening sky.
After a while I walked around to the front yard. I stopped in the middle of the driveway and scanned my surroundings. It was then that I noticed the tree. I go past it every morning as I walk to the car for the daily commute. But there, in the middle of the yard, was the tree.
I love autumn. I want to slow down time and make October last for six months. I have been so busy that I did not notice that the tree had lost half its leaves, and those that remain are a dark crimson. In that moment I did not want to miss the passing of the season. Memories of childhood flashed across my mind.
When I go a long time without solitude, my heart becomes dull. My ears are assaulted with the deafening roar of the technological world. The spaces meant for silence are filled with talking heads on the news channels. The thoughts that are birthed in silence are drowned out by the demands of schedule. I find myself in the evening rush hour distracted by routine, completely missing the glorious mural being unveiled in the skyline by my Father. The press of technology upon even our most brief moments of stillness creates a restlessness in our souls that is like a cancer.
Today I found, once again, my cure for that cancer. As I strolled across the yard I was transfixed by a vapor trail in the sky. Cutting a path across the heavens, I watched as the cottony ribbon drifted on the jet stream. As it moved, it began to unspool and broaden its mark upon the firmament. It was glorious in its dissipation.
This morning I knew I needed to write, and I also knew I had nothing to say. How can I give when I don’t take the time to receive? It is not the noise that bestows words to me, it is in the absence of words that they come to me. It is in emptiness that my tank becomes full. It is in my need that I can find my abundance. Beth Nielsen-Chapman summed it up perfectly in her song “Every December Sky.”
The tune came to me shortly after my father had passed. Music does that to me. It finds me when I need it, and God uses the poets to speak to me. The song is about rebirth; resurrection, if you will. I love that the most profound ideas can be summed up in in the simplest phrases.
Every December sky
Must lose it faith in leaves
And dream of the spring
Inside the trees
How heavy the empty heart
The heart that’s full
Out of the emptiness, out of the silence, my heart once again became full. My plan today was to write a profile on a guitar prodigy out of Charlottesville. It will have to wait until tomorrow. But the article will benefit from the time taken to step off the treadmill and pause. Sometimes neutral is my best gear. I can almost hear the derailleur clicking as I coast on my way home. I’ve got my vision adjusted, and the road is clear. I am free to move ahead. Because, as I have long known, doing proceeds from being, and not the other way around.