Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Visit with Silence

Some time ago, my daughter, Helen asked me what being
“high mainte-
nance”
meant.

“That’s easy,” I said. “I am NOT high maintenance.”

I explained that the expression high maintenance was a term which refers to a woman (more often than not) who spends an inordinate amount of time on her appearance.

I went on to explain, that other than monthly highlights to hide the little bit of grey in my hair, I was very low maintenance. I have all of my original body parts. I use no additives, fillers or preservatives to smooth the approaching signs of age across my face. I don’t get pedicures or manicures, other than an imaginary one during “beauty parlor” hour with Helen; AND I am proud to report that I can get from the finish of a run to work-ready clothing and appearance in less than 25 minutes.

Helen thought for a minute. “Mom, I think I’m just maintenance, then.” Leave it to an 8 year old to find the space of in-between, neither high nor low, but perfectly balanced between the extremes.

Several years ago I was dealing with a very stressful personal situation. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I was frequently sick, often irritable for no real explainable reason and was having this strange sensation under my skin like pins and needles. I went to the doctor, hoping in some kind of perverse way that he might reveal some hidden disorder that was causing my skin irritations, frequent outbursts and overall malaise.

“Are you stressed, perhaps? More than usual?” I remember wanting to laugh out loud, thinking, “What? Do I look stressed? Two kids under the age of 4, I’m training for a marathon, I’m sick and tired all of the time, I’ve got this business I’m trying to get started, financial strains are inevitable and this other thing that is on my mind 24/7 is eating me up from the inside out? What? Me stressed? You’ve got to be kidding.

“Maybe, a little.” I responded.

“Well, let’s consider this prescription.” He quickly scribbled out something that started with an X (and it wasn’t xylophone, the only word, until then, I had ever been aware of that really started with the letter X), handed it to me, and sent me off with, “This should help.”

Darn it, I thought. No severe illness, immune disorder or digestive malfunction. I was…like many other new mothers well-done, cooked and stressed out to the max.

The car ride home was no fun. I felt defeated, deflated and a little bit afraid. There was no sound at all, other than the hum of my car’s engine and the choir of voices in my head, all competing for lead vocal.

“See? You really are stressed out,” the sympathetic one agreed.
“Poor thing, you’ve got so much on your plate,” the enabling one chimed in.

“You are pathetic. You are completely incapable of managing your life,” the shaming one declared.

Yet, mysteriously, one voice rose above all of the others. This voice was different. She was quiet, hollow and delicate; seductive, powerful and resilient.

She was the voice of Silence. I hadn’t heard her for years…not since my chaotic life had pushed her aside. I wanted to visit with her again.

So, the next morning, I drove to the cross country course at a nearby college and ran 8 miles across paths I’d never known existed. I heard the squish of my feet on wet, black leaves, my breathing as it fell in sync with my footsteps and my heartbeat when I paused at the crest of a hill. My fingertips were white with cold and my body was sweat-drenched with effort.

I thought of nothing. I thought of everything. I thought of sorrow, loss and fear, as I ran beneath dry crooked kudzu vines clutching tree limbs made barren by winter’s cold. I thought of gratitude, wonder and anticipation as I ran across brown grassy fields soon to be warmed by the chilled red light of winter’s sunrise.

My friend Silence was there, on that run and in those woods. I found comfort in her strength…the way she gently led me from the world outside myself to an internal space where time was suspended and demands on me and my time were eliminated. I just was: running…breathing…listening…peaceful.

Now, I take a long run in the woods at least once a week to visit Silence. I always find her in the woods, nestled in behind the soft scent of honeysuckle in spring or rising up in the dry red dirt of blazing summer sun. She tells me things that the demanding external world doesn’t, like: I’m a good mother; in time all will work out as it should; be grateful for what I have; celebrate this run, this day, this breath.

So while I’m not big on maintaining my nails, skin or hair, I won’t let anything interfere with my regularly scheduled appointment with Silence. The prescription I opted for was to meet with her every day now…sometimes it’s thirty minutes in the morning before my kids are awake or writing as I’m doing now, but always and forever during my weekly run in the woods.

I’d like to think I’m just “maintenance,” like my daughter, Helen. But I’m not. I’m a high maintenance woman.

1 comment:

  1. How great that you could find Silence to help maintain you. For me it is "breath". Whether breathing while running, breathing to stay calm during a child's tempertantrum at the end of a long day, moving to my breath in yoga, or breathing in stillness, it is definitely what maintains me. And, I think it is perfectly okay to be high maintenance - it is just part of who you are and what makes you go. Besides, look at what it has done for our world! :)

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