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  • Pamela S

MWF Seeking Silence

Quail Gardens, 2016

I think I am reading too much Merton this morning. Too much about quiet, solitude, humility, and poverty. I follow the dachshund into the backyard, deciding to leave my feet bare on the concrete. He is following his usual circle around the grass, preferring to walk on the brick edging as he discovers the scents from the night before. I step into the grass, feeling the squishy wetness with my bare soles, fighting the urge to leap back onto the dry concrete with its familiar texture. Instead, I move about the grass as I scan for each step, my thoughts invaded by what I could be stepping on. Trying to focus instead on the cold, wet, natural earth. Invaded again by imagining what I will be tracking back into the house. Breathing deeply and feeling the sun warm on my skin. Sensing a burn and hoping my skin will not show a line in this short time in the sun. Listening to the birds chirp and flitter. Keenly aware of the din of the traffic on the other side of the wall.

For a fleeting moment, I wonder if we should move to a quieter neighborhood. I feel guilty having such thoughts. Both my husband and I are perplexed about people who move so much. He never moved growing up, and I did too much, so we are both content to have one home until old age forces us out one way or another. Our children are advocates as well: our son has known no other home, and while our daughter has, she has no memory of it. They want this home to exist forever, and have said as much. It had been our plan to move up one more time to a bigger house, but we never did, so now we have no need to downsize. Plus the property taxes, my husband always counters. So why move? Or more to the point, why do such thoughts invade in my mind?

We bought this home newly built 23 years ago, not aware of the community's frustration and sadness at the destruction of the poinsettia fields that once sprawled across these hills. I imagine sometimes the vision of the crisp red flowers that were planted here, grown and brought to market by the Ecke family in this erstwhile poinsettia capital of the world. All that remains of the flower farms in this immediate area is the name, Encinitas Ranch, adorning the area and a nearby golf course.

When we first moved here, the road outside the wall stopped at our street. We knew it would connect eventually to the busy street at the bottom of the hill, but we never thought about the future street noise behind our double-paned glass. It was quiet for several years. Our dirt yard was empty except for potential. As we added new turf and concrete paths, the lines were crisp and round. Not even the spiders were tenants yet. Our home was bare, clean, and shiny. The few belongings from our apartment only hinted at our old cramped life—the first dust in our new home moved with us. The bright white carpet invited rolling and somersaults from our toddler, with shoes left in the entry. We were new homeowners and new parents in a new life.

As I walk about the yard, the street noise is so loud that I have to search the cacophony for the sound of birds. There's a honk in the distance. The old plants look tired, and the large fountain is inert, full of algae and lime. There is so much we can do to bring this place back—not to the crisp lines of newness, but to the textured lines of wisdom. But how much easier it would be to leave the labor for the young, and find a quieter place where we might complain about the birds waking us in the morning instead of a motorcycle.

In all this time, this home has seen two adults created, and two mature. Fish, hamsters, rabbits, silverfish, dogs, friends, ants, spiders, family—all have shared this roof. An empty shelf or corner or wall no longer exists, and the grayish carpet is long gone with shoes now welcome on the wood floors. Our possessions are an archaeological dig of hobbies, phases, preferences, and poor decisions in the moment. We even have an extension of our home at a storage unit down the street, holding mostly what is sentimental in clear plastic boxes. My mother-in-law once said many years ago after careful reflection, "I think I know the problem. You have too much stuff." My response to this incontestable observation was something like—blink, blink.

Even being alone in this house at night when all the shoppers have tucked their cars away, even in the quiet and darkness of the evening with no one else stirring and few lights on, even then, there is no sense of alone in this house. I am surrounded by things, and memories, and mess, and emotions. What is solitude? What is nature? What is quiet of the mind? Ergo my desire to run from here to somewhere far, far away, with birds chirping and quiet breeze. But I would bring my family. And the dogs of course. And I would want a writing desk just like I have now. And the succulents in the backyard. And the photographs and the keepsakes. And my books—I could not leave without my books. The sofa is also pretty comfortable. And it sure is convenient to have shopping so close by. And the weather, I love the weather. Then there are the low property taxes, which is a good argument as well.

So even though our address will remain the same, perhaps we are due for fall cleaning, or a weekend getaway, or a renewed membership at Quail Gardens, or maybe even a solitary retreat at some mission. Or I could just try noise cancelling earbuds while I am outside. For now, I think, I will just put aside Merton and get to cleaning the kitchen.

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Nov 10, 2020

I can hear the same noise too. I have try to run away seeking for solitude, quietness, and peace, but I keep taking myself with me. I find that most of the noise is made in my head by the amounts of thoughts competing to be heart.

~Rosa Sanchez


Nov 07, 2020

Beautiful reflection. I can almost see the noise invading your mind. I can also relate to the idea that having too much stuff can cause too much noise in our heads and hearts. Merton's writing can inspire us to stop, think, reflect, and write.

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