There’s a little yellow house at the bottom of a big hill near where my grandma lives in Ipava, Illinois. It’s not in the middle of nowhere, but it’s much closer to that middle than my condo in Portland, Oregon. It’s in terrible disrepair, as it’s been empty as long as I can remember. And all the time it’s been empty, I’ve painted it into a snowy winter’s scene in my head and lived inside it for a quiet season.
Whenever I see the house in my mind’s eye, it’s adorned in Christmas lights – big colored bulbs – with smoke coming out of the chimney. I’m not sure it has a picket fence, but I picture one. In the enclosed porch at the front of the house, there’s a swing, like the one my grandpa used to rock me in while he played guitar and sang me to sleep. I see the house from the outside, but I’ve always known I’m inside, wrapped in a blanket reading a book or piecing together a puzzle. And, of course, there’s a fire.
What appeals to me most about the house right now is that it just feels…quiet. It’s set back from a graveled country road and surrounded by trees on three sides – not like trees of the landscaped variety but trees of the forest variety, big old trees. All of it looks so peaceful to me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about noise lately. My upstairs neighbors are obnoxiously loud, to the point that I sometimes have to wear earplugs to get any peace and quiet in my own house. Traffic is loud, both outside my window and in the busyness of trying to get around in it. And there are just so many of us living in what feels like a smaller and smaller world that sometimes I feel like I’m crashing into people all over the place. And I hear clamor.
The recent election cycle was exceptionally loud. While politics is something I typically relish following, pondering, and discussing, there came a point in the process when I literally checked-out all together. Friends tried to engage me, and I shut them down. It made me sad, and I even felt a little guilty about it, like I was shirking my civic duty somehow, but I just couldn’t engage.
I’ve been going through a tough time personally. This year has been one of surprises, some wonderful and others…not so much. I’ve been doing a lot of looking back and looking forward and also just trying desperately to stay present somehow. I read recently that we shouldn’t hope and we shouldn’t fear because neither does us any good. They just steal away our now (from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart). It’s a great theory, a tougher philosophy to practice. Still, in the rare times I’m successful (sometimes mere seconds at a time), avoiding these tendencies does quiet my mind.
I was interested to find my seeking self drawn home to the country not just once but twice this fall. Somehow, it felt like that’s where I most belonged, a place of comfort, healing, and also…quiet. (If I could have stayed in the yellow house, I would have.) I told almost no one of my visits because I wanted to disconnect, to be still. It was during harvest, my favorite time of year there, and it felt familiar and safe, in a time when those were the things I needed most.
A couple weeks back, I even went camping by myself. I bought a tent, my first “grown-up” sleeping bag, and a lantern and picked a site miles from the city, yards from a rushing river. It was an experience both lonely and enlightening. I cried some, I felt a little scared…and I relished in a night that was quiet except for the river, which sort of sounded like my own lifeblood rushing through me.
I love music of all kinds, and I take a lot of comfort in it, especially when it’s relatable. At almost any point in time, there’s a song or two that really resonate with where I’m at in life, and I listen to them over and over. This summer I saw the Australian artist Missy Higgins perform locally. These lyrics from one of her songs really spoke to me:
When everyone’s waiting, It makes it harder to hear what my heart keeps saying. Turn it off, I wanna turn it all off.
I’ve always been one to look to friends and other confidants for advice, for guidance, for validation, but lately I’ve found myself wanting to avoid all of that, even at times resenting it if I’m completely honest. Well-intentioned companions have offered insight, some of it quite wise I’m certain, but I’ve asked them to be still. I’m needing to make my own sense of things, find my own path and search for my own truth. A friend calls this “seeking your own counsel,” and for maybe the first time ever, I’m trying to do that.
As I continue to sort through the things in my world that seem to have fallen apart, another line from Missy’s “Everyone’s Waiting” replays in my head: I hear that answers appear when you just stand still. I’m seeking that stillness in the quiet of my yellow house, even if that place only really exists in my imagination.