Mundane Mondays: The Art of Silence
One of my favorite places on earth is Pine Mountain, GA; south of Atlanta, tucked into a patch of earth where nothing exists except you, a million pine trees, some red dirt clay, a couple of deer (maybe a couple of bears too, but, you know, what’s life without a little adventure, right?). I was a teenager when we lived in Pine Mountain for a brief time, in a cabin with a porch. In a cabin with a porch that sat about two miles away a windy, hair-raising kind of backroad to the nearest… anything. Very Thoreau-like (bet’cha his Walden pond, whose measurements I had to write about in Dr. Estes’ Advanced Placement English class, an assignment I didn’t forgive her for until years later, was within a stone’s throw from this cabin). For some people, like my daughters, the ocean is their heart’s home. For me, it’s feeling surrounded on all sides by huge mountains, ponds and creek beds; it’s getting up early to sit in a rocking chair on the wraparound porch to watch a deer graze in your yard through the misty morning sunrise. It’s a place where time crawls so slowly you eventually forget about it, a place where the only thing to do is read, write, play board games or sit in front of a cozy fire. I am comfortable in the bustling city of Nashville, but I am at rest in the mountains because, surrounded by them, I feel small and protected. I can breathe easier.
I’ve swung from old ropes into a pond, I’ve played in sewage tunnels, I’ve waded into icy cold ponds and walked across logs with initials carved into the bark of a tree. I’ve planted trees, pulled up weeds, made mozzarella cheese, cinnamon rolls and all sorts of bread from scratch on a regular basis. I’ve known the joy of running through a sprinkler, and I’ve tasted honeysuckle from the vine (it was a favorite treat). I’ve roasted marsh mellows and caught fireflies in mason jars; I’ve slept with windows open. We’ve taken blankets and pillows and turned our backyard into a camping spot, a place to look at stars, tell stories, sing and just be.
I’ve listened to the silence.
I’m not in Pine Mountain, GA right now, and haven’t been in a very long time. I live in a suburb of a bustling, major city; a city I love. I’ve taken the bus downtown, sitting in a window seat, people watching the others sitting beside and in front of me. I’ve felt the pressure of working, the elusive idea of success relentlessly pushing me forward. I’ve lived in a “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” with neighbors who show up at your doorstep ten minutes after you post a public SOS in the neighborhood Facebook group because you don’t have a jack, but you do have a flat tire. I’ve experienced fantastical theater events like Phantom of the Opera and Nutcracker. My girls and I know the nooks and crannies of museums, of the zoo and my oldest says she feels she “pretty much grew up in a park” because there are a ton of great ones in and around our city. Time has dictated when I rise, when I eat, when I leave the house and when I sleep. It’s a world apart from Pine Mountain, GA. And, yet, not. For in this bustling city with its Monday Madness, we’ve also watched caterpillars build and emerge from a cocoon, found an oasis within botanical gardens; it was where I first discovered the joy of teaching, and learned to trust in my own abilities. It was where I became a mother; it was in the driveway of a busy house I first noticed how vibrant the colors of the earth are.
I’ve listened to the silence here, too.
Silence makes some people uncomfortable; if you’re with someone and you want them to speak, all you have to do is allow silence to swell the air for a minute. Soon enough, they’ll feel the need to fill the silence. Silence can make you feel self-conscious, it can remind you of what’s missing. Silence can make you angry because you’re haunted by thoughts you can’t kill, but silence can also give your heart a moment’s rest. The art of silence is to remember that sometimes we say the most by saying nothing at all. When I see a deer in my neighborhood, my heart stills. Once, when the girls and I were in a park, a family of deer came within throw of us. I was so mesmerized that I sat down in the grass just to watch. Silence is remembering that time doesn’t define us; we define time. Sitting on the grass watching deer graze wasn’t wasted time because it gave me a moment to feel as though I were sitting on the wraparound porch in Pine Mountain, GA watching a sunrise through a misty fog.
People fear Mondays, they dread Mondays: the return to work, the start of crazy. But believing that is listening to the noise. The noise of outside influences that are vying for your attention for their own reasons. The noise of expectations. The noise of a mundane Monday. The noise of here we go again when what here we go again really means is here we go again! It’s a new day! Seeing each stop on today’s Outlook calendar as a possibility—a possibility to rediscover the wonder of being tucked away between some really massive mountains, feeling small and safe. Isn’t it ironic how the more successful we become, the less safe we feel? It’s like we’re on a teeter tottering, balancing life, but also knowing that we’ll eventually drop back to the ground. Mundane Mondays are kind of like Hump Wednesdays — they both assume that if something isn’t drenched in fun and excitement, then it’s boring or worthless or inconsequential. The truth is that the consequential resides in the insignificant: that last word you said to the one you love the most, that moment you saw him, the deer you saw that gave you a fresh sense of energy by which to do the day. Even when we are at our lowest point, I’ve often been there because I’ve been so focused on comparing myself to others when those others are comparing themselves to me; I’ve often been at the lowest point because I’m paying the noise.
Silence reminds me of who I am if all the noise were unplugged. Silence is uncomfortable because — do we really know who we are? If not, how can we be comfortable with ourselves? Battling terrible feelings of self-doubt and fear sometimes may mean we are battling an addiction to the lies that say we have to be successful, we have to do this, that and this in order to be happy. The truth is that we don’t happiness does not require anything. I’ve known a homeless man with shining, twinkling eyes and a smile that was genuine; he was happy. Happiness requires stillness, the embracing of silence and the knowledge that Monday Madness or Mundane Mondays are just catchy phrases, but they are not the sum total of any day.
On this Mundane Monday, it’s nearly ten-thirty in the evening, and I’m about to take a fuzzy blanket to sit outside on the back porch, to count the stars (I usually can find between 30-60 amongst all the city lights here), listen to the cicadas and the random dog bark. Maybe a fly will buzz around my nose, maybe I’ll see a rabbit, maybe the Tennessee humidity will make me contemplate moving to Alaska, maybe I’ll see Venus, and maybe, when I come back indoors, the sounds of silence will follow me into tomorrow.