The title of this entry comes from Madeleine L’Engle, perhaps more known to many as an author of children’s books such as A Wrinkle in Time. As a reader, though, I did not meet her through her children’s books, but more through her nonfiction, where she bravely travels the terrain of womanhood in all its mundane glory.
I begin with the idea of quiet, as summer closes its sunny doors and the school year in our home has officially arrived. Summer is always full—as full as the fruits of the season. It is mysterious to me how we while away the endless days of summer. There are items of documentation of course: lists of books read, number of things created, trips taken with pictures, even change of skin color from days of swimming by the sea.
That’s all gone and done with now. Our nights are now punctuated with the lining of school clothes on the bathroom counter, designed to catch an extra two minutes of sleep in the mornings. Below are the quiet shoes of the children, almost as if they are recharging for the chaos ahead.
The change from summer to school was blinding, although the first days of school for the children came on different dates, so there was always one child at home to spend the day with. But today, what with Marty entering her school gates at the abominable hour of 6:45 AM, finally, suddenly, all is quiet at home.
Which might explain why I am back here, at "Motherline," after almost a year away. The year away was, hmmmm, what word to use? It was not a quiet year. It was a frazzled year in which I was busy attempting to finish a doctoral degree while teaching full time. I lived on a steady diet of teaching, studying, reading, and academic writing, so there was little room for anything else. There were many, many, many days and nights when I craved to write creatively, to just play with storytelling; but the rational part of me would set me straight, and there I would be, back in the arms of Shakespeare.
By the end of last school year, I had read enough books to fill half the shelves of our bedroom. I do not exaggerate. I cannot believe how much I read, and so, at the end of all that, I celebrated by buying the cheapest romance novel I could find: The Blackmailed Virgin at P40. Oh, what bliss in these pages!
Ideas, in and of themselves, are noisy. They crowd in your head and fight each other. The best ideas are the ones framed as questions: What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to believe in God? How should we best proceed to live when death is the only destination? It is possible for questions to contradict each other, and perhaps that’s what makes the questions even more interesting. Aaah, the poet Rilke was right—it is not the answer that enlightens, it is the question.
I teach this in class—the idea that questioning is of great value. Teaching is sometimes about exploring a method for answering by taking a look at how answers were arrived at in stories and poems. Look at this, look at this! I intone repeatedly. What is the question at the heart of this story? Isn’t every question “How must I live?”
I’ve taken it for granted that, no matter the question, the answer is an action—a living out, an actual choice. Yes, there is a meaninglessness in life, but there is also an incontrovertible meaningfulness I find in the work that flowers do. So, please, cultivate a garden. Death is certain, and so life must be even more expansive and full. So go run that marathon. Yes, belief in God can be a slippery slope, but it is also a sacred mountain. So pray. But action is noisy too. It is premised on the use of the body, soul, and spirit. It is purposeful, active, a clanging of cymbals, announcing arrival at a prescribed destination!
So what to do now with this quiet? Where the old questions are more or less tamed to a degree of satisfaction? There are no children to entertain. There is a to-do list for certain, but most items are for a foreseeable future—destination dissertation, 2013.
I can imagine that the circle has just been waiting for me so its presence is fragile and can easily disappear with my slightest noise. So I enter with bare feet and become the quiet. Let me describe this circle. Better yet, let me tell you what I hear and see in this circle of quiet:
First, I become aware because it is quiet that the day is made up a multitude of sounds: There’s the far-off sound of a tricycle dropping off a guest by the guardhouse. I can hear gas-guzzling cars from streets away. At 4:00 PM, the parade of school buses begins, children’s high voices punctuating the air. Birds chirp all around the trees that are my view from my writing table. They are everywhere as both my left and right ears find pleasure in their singing. And birds do not chirp generically. There are patterns, and there is pitch and tone. It is a secret language, perhaps, that I am not privy to. There is time to be beguiled by this.
Behind me, the whirr of the electric fan, its creaking louder as it turns its head. There is time to find this funny. And a few air pockets further, the front door opening and closing. I wonder, what grace has come to my door?
My desk is full of wonderful things I had forgotten. A candle from a decade ago I had bought on a trip abroad, still unfinished. My pens lie in a blue cloth case given by a teacher who is now a friend. There is a paperweight tile of red roses bought at a museum. Lying quietly is a music box given by my son. As you turn its handle, the song “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” plays. There is even time to turn the handle and hear the song twice. And, yes, a stray piece of red Lego.
Sometimes, just sometimes, in a circle of quiet, even questions can be quieted, and all that is true and real and necessary is my hand on this object in this space and time. I am breathing and alive. What need do I have for more?
(Photo of swing by Ian Rosales Casocot; photo of hammock by Rica Bolipata Santos. Both used with permission from Rica Bolipata Santos.)