Tag Archives: quiet

sparrow at rest

sparrow alone in snow.jpg

My husband and I have been looking at possible places to move to, now that he’s retired. As far as I’m concerned, we could live somewhere in the middle of nowhere and spend all our time gardening and reading and walking outdoors in the silence.

I’m a solitary bird by nature. I like to have my mate with me, but otherwise it’s much easier for me to be alone. Out in the peopled world, I quickly reach sensory overload. Everything starts to hurt. People talking, buses and trucks, dishes clanking in a restaurant, supposed “background” music that becomes very foreground for me. So many lights everywhere—have you ever noticed the number of colored lights? Traffic signals, shop signs, cars’ rear headlights, theater marquees. They’re everywhere! And flashing!

A place beyond all that is the only place where I can rest. Unfortunately, as my husband has pointed out, my physical health is getting increasingly problematic. Myofascial pain syndrome, degenerative disc disease, and fibromyalgia, not to mention my old friends depression and anxiety, are chronic conditions that have been added to the sum of me. It’s who I am now.

I thought I was beginning to accept my new limitations. But when I fell in love with a little house on a huge, wide-open space on the top of a mountain in the middle of the Catskills, my husband yanked me back down to the real world where I need to have ready access to medical facilities, and neighbors to help out if he’s not there.

Realistically, it would be dangerous for me to live in the middle of nowhere now. It frightens my husband to even think about it. It’s really hard for me to give up my lifelong expectation of retiring to a secluded place. It’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s what I’ve always pictured when I thought about this stage in my life. It’s who I’ve always been. I hurts to not be that anymore.

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. (John 21:18 NIV)

Tiny piccolos

I put the dog out this morning and heard sleet falling but couldn’t see it or feel it. The sound of it hitting the bare trees was like a world full of tiny invisible piccolos playing quiet staccato notes. In a few minutes it had collected enough to see it on the deck, and on the dog (who was whining to come in). The invisible became real.

This third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the first word of this day’s Latin mass, meaning “Rejoice.” Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Rejoice in the Lord always;  again I say, rejoice. For centuries Christians have been singing some version of this introit at this point in the Advent season. It’s a blending of Psalm 85 and Philippians 4, Hebrew and Greek together.

I never knew that before. What a glad thought. I wonder how those two passages came to be sung as one song? It’s a marvelous image, people living amidst all the words together, Hebrew and Greek and everything else, words all around them all the time, in the air, the dust, dripping from the clouds, ringing out from stars they can’t see behind the clouds. I imagine it sounding like the ice this morning, tiny notes that no one felt or saw but that played about them always.

I’d love to live in that kind of world. Maybe I do and just can’t hear it for the noise. But I’d guess there was a lot of noise in their world, too, so the words must sort themselves out somehow. If I just keep singing them, I’ll say, rejoice. And again, I’ll say, rejoice.

Istiklal glow

Night on Istiklal St, Istanbul (2011)



33It’s 46℉ and foggy this morning. It looks and feels like March, my favorite season of the year. November and March are a season unto themselves—the vestibule between fall and winter, winter and spring. The mudroom where you keep your rubber boots because this is the season when you’re going to need them. I call these times the Mud Season.

March mud has the voice of spring, the smell of the struggle to crack the shell of winter. One morning you realize you’re hearing red-winged blackbirds. Hundreds of them. They say, Hey, I’m back! Winter’s over! And then another snowstorm hits. blackbirdBut they hang out in the trees and say, I’m still here! Winter really is over! Promise!

Pretty soon I see green shoots coming up through the mud, and I take a million pictures of them even though they look the same every spring and they’re not really all that interesting in a photo. shoots upBut the mud, the birds, the green shoots! I’m still here!


November mud is about closing down for the season. The decaying fall underfoot smells like an old root cellar with a few apples still in it. Dark, clammy, a little haunting.


The wetlands out back turn into flat fields of dried out goldenrod, packed down by early winter snow and deer. The red-winged blackbirds leave. The ticks go into hibernation, so we can take the dog for a run in the now frozen wetlands and lose a few more tennis balls under the bracken. We go through a lot of tennis balls in the winter. Sometimes we find them again in the spring.



I woke up at 3:30 this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. I found myself thinking about the church my husband, James, just retired from. We worked for 10+ hard  years to turn that church to face the future instead of the past, with some success. But other voices, voices from those trained in the corporate business model, took the lead at the end and have drowned out the still, small voice of God with their push to “balance the budget,” “get things done,” “NOW!” God is not in the mighty wind. God is not in the earthquake. God is not in the fire. God is in the whispers of possibility that take a fearless ear to hear.

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian liturgical year. I sat with my coffee, looking out at the still-dark northern morning where an early snow is melting after a night of “mixed precipitation,” weather-speak for 38℉ yuck. Not pretty. I’m glad I’m lucky enough to welcome Advent from behind a window in a warm-enough house, with a cup of coffee in my hand.

Advent isn’t for getting things done. Advent is for getting up in the dark to snowmelt dripping off the eaves. It’s for putting the dog out Lucie on deckand then forgetting she’s out there because you’re writing about 38℉ yuck which has, unbeknownst to you, turned into cold rain. It’s for suddenly remembering the dog and bringing her in to lie behind you near the space heater, radiating wet dog smell and making that stomach-turning sound of licking herself. Double yuck. Maybe triple.

Unbeknownst. That’s Advent. James and I are in the midst of the unbeknownst. This is a small city—or a big town, which is how it feels to us after living in Cleveland and Tucson—so it’s hard to be really retired here when we frequently run into church people at the grocery store and post office. Should we move? Where should we move? Can we afford to move? What is this new diminished income going to manifest as we settle into it?

Yesterday morning, when I woke up early (before going back to sleep, unlike today—it wasn’t the first Sunday of Advent), I did some math in my head and compared James’s retirement pension of ≈$28,000/yr with what other people with 40 years of full-time, professional employment and a doctorate might bring in. We’ve always lived small. We’ll just have to live a little smaller now. And I’ll keep pulling myself out of the darkness of comparing our circumstances with those of former members of our churches.

We’ve been calling this the Year of Beholding, the year of figuring out what retirement means for us. Typing the word “unbeknownst” made me wonder if that wouldn’t be a better word for me: the Year of Beknowing. I like to find new words to help me move in new ways. To have form follow function opens up my mind—I’m not limited to thoughts that fit available language. My thoughts can shape my language, rather than language shaping my thoughts.

This at least is the Season of Beknowing. For the next 22 days I’ll peregrinate (a perfect word already in existence) through the north country Advent darkness finding language for my thoughts about what is to come. I trust I’ll find the star in the wheelbarrow, making my way to Bethlehem.