Sunday, July 19, 2009

Not In The Whirlwind

The early evening breeze, making its way through the cornfield whose stalks are now fading from bright green to dull gold, sounds like an advancing rain shower and I have to look up from my book to figure out which it is. No water, just wind.

Soft and easy it comes across the yard, so gently that the wind chimes hanging from the eaves over my head do not move, so gently that the thin leaves on the chinaberry tree vibrate no more than a blinking eyelash, so gently that the single hummingbird can float before the feeder, hesitate a moment as though she’s never seen such a thing before and then tilt her head slightly to plunge her beak into the fake flower like a needle into silk.

It has been a busy summer. A summer of weddings and parties and warm times with people I love. All good things. But there have been few moments of inactivity, few moments to sit on the deck and watch the hummingbirds. The feeders emptied last week without my noticing and I refilled them this morning with more than a dash of guilt and a whispered prayer for absolution. The birds, at least this one, seem to have forgiven me.

The larger question is whether I’ve forgiven myself.

Nothing has been neglected really. Nothing except the hummingbirds and the hanging baskets of petunias that, let’s face it, never really stood a chance in the constant heat. I’ve managed to make the telephone calls to keep the grass cut. I’ve sent all the birthday and anniversary cards for June and July. I picked enough blackberries to make a few pints of jam.

And, yet, in this moment, with my legs stretched out on the lawn chair, my hand curved around a glass of tea, and my breath easier than it’s been in weeks, I understand that what I’ve snubbed with my busyness, what I’ve slighted in my constant movement, what I’ve disregarded in my attention to the details of my to-do lists, is myself.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone who knows me well. We were speaking of esoteric things, peculiar ideas and polarizing opinions, unanswerable questions and undoubtable truths. I think – no, I’m sure – I was being deliberately obtuse. I wanted to talk, but my brain was too tired. I wanted to engage, but I was physically and mentally incapable of doing so. At some point, frustrated like an infant needing a nap, I replied to a particular question with a harsh, "I don’t know!"

I expected a reprimand. Or something along the lines of, "Sure you do." Or something that would allow me to rev up the tension, complain about the busyness of my life and elicit some sympathy.

What I got instead was, "Be still and know. You have to be still to know."


So now it’s Saturday. The perennials I spent the morning planting smile at me from the flower bed at the bottom of the deck steps. The sycamore tree whose bottom limbs, puddling on the grass, I’d trimmed away with Mama’s hacksaw sighs deeply with the extra breathing room. The hummingbird hums, sucking at the Kool-Aid in the hourglass-shaped feeder.

And I am being still.

Still and noticing that the sun is setting in a slightly different place than the last time I watched. Noticing that the kudzu on the trees in the branch between the house and the pond has completely obscured the view of the water. Noticing that my skin is browner, that there are no mosquitoes, that the humidity isn’t so bad.

I am being still and I can feel myself contracting and expanding, contracting to expel the waste of used-up energy, expanding to take in the pulse-beat of everything around me. Breathing out the hurry, breathing in the calm.

I am being still and, in the stillness, I know everything I need to know.

Copyright 2009

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