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Archive for December, 2008

Silence

Driving back from Colorado I had a lot of time, once again, to challenge my body’s capacity for sitting. In fact, I drove 750 miles, only stopping one time. My mind thought this would be a good idea yet my body disagreed vehemently. In the 1100 miles back to my new home I listened to music, talk radio, and Christian radio (a blog about which will come later), but much of the time I just sat in silence consumed by my own thoughts, observing the oddities of interstate driving, and wondering what this new year will bring.

I’ve always had a volatile relationship with silence. There’s just something about a silence so deafening that you just want to hear something ever so banal, just as long as it’s from that person. An experience a long long time ago made me hate the silence. In fact, I hate it so much that it drives me absolutely insane and makes me just a little bit crazy. Ok, it makes me a lot crazy.

I can sit in silence on the phone with good friends for a very long time. But this isn’t the kind of silence I’m talking about. It’s comforting to know that friends or family are there, on the other end of the line, just sitting. When you live so far away this is the best thing you have to just sitting, spending time in each other’s presence. It’s part of living with the people you care most about albeit with hundreds and thousands of miles between. Silence can be comforting but more often it is frustrating.

My students get frustrated if they send me an e-mail and don’t get an immediate response. I secretly laugh at them because I think this is a bit ridiculous. It’s not like I don’t have many other things to do, after all. Although sometimes I find myself doing exactly what they do to me. I get frustrated and annoyed when the people I want to hear from the most don’t call me back or just send me an e-mail to let me know that they are still there. Silence makes me a little bit crazy.

I can’t nor would want to change the experiences of my life, yet I am continually confronted with the effects of those experiences. Sometimes I wish I could change my reaction to that thing that hurts me the most but I just don’t know how. It’s as if I’m trapped by my own past that continues to haunt me in those moments of silence. And the silence continues to follow me.

What’s odd about all of this for me, the contradictory nature of my own existence, rests in that I know I have family and friends who love me deeply. I know that I am able to just take a drive or make a call and be in their physical presence. I know that they are there and will always be there. But that doesn’t stop the silence, my desire to know that someone is there, from consuming me. Why is it that all the people in my life who care deeply about me isn’t enough? Why do I long for silence to be broken and communication restored? When a connection is so pronounced and that connection willingly taken from me, my soul hurts. And it’s hurting today.

I think, especially around the holidays, some of you might relate to this. We tend to remember those we’ve loved and lost, whether family, friends, or others. We hurt because we want to know and be known. We want to hear but the silence engulfs us. The silence will end, as it always does, the question is what happens when it peeks around the corner once again. I’m thinking of my family and friends and I suppose that’s what I should have been thinking about all along. The silence is there but I can hear again.

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A Skein of Geese

I can’t believe two months have passed since my last blog. Life gets crazy sometimes and the last couple of months are evidence of that small reality. But I’m in Colorado right now with family. I arrived last night, making the 18 hour drive from Indiana in one long day. It’s amazing what a day of driving and thinking does for the soul. It was a very good day, filled with reflection and laughter. Does it make me crazy that I laughed out loud repeatedly about things that I remembered along the way? Over and over again I would see things on the road that would make me remember past situations and events.

I was only on the road for an hour, battling wind gusts of up to 20 mph, and I noticed that there were a lot of birds trying to fly against the wind. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. Driving south, I noticed a skein of geese on my left flying southwest. I think they may have been following me. When I first noticed them they weren’t flying in formation and I didn’t think anything of this. Instead, I looked around but mostly concentrating on trying to stay on the road. When I looked up again they were flying in perfect formation until a particularly strong gust of wind transformed the perfect V into chaos. As if in one instance the geese were all taken off guard, adjusting their wings, trying to avoid hitting each other, yet still flying in the same vicinity as others just not as perfectly.

I just started laughing when I saw this because this is how I’ve felt over the past several months. Everything just seems out of control. Just when I think things are going well, my work is getting finished, and life is just pretty dang good, a gust of wind blows me off course and I’m fighting to get things back in their original place.  But lately the wind just doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end. So much work, so much doubt, so many distractions, so many obstacles, so many uncharacteristic moments that make me wish for a new day that would begin a couple of weeks in the past. The wind just doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up and I’m not sure what to do about it.

A few minutes after observing the skein’s chaos, I looked again only to see them flying in a perfect V. I saw the lead goose struggling more than the others but they were flying together nonetheless. They were back to normality despite continuing to confront that pesky wind. To give you an idea of the wind, I had my steering wheel turned about 10 degrees to keep my car on the road. It was ridiculous! I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be flying straight into it. Yet the skein regrouped as if only confronting a momentary setback and there they were, headed in the right direction once again.

Moments after I had noticed that they had reformed, another gust of wind created chaos and I just couldn’t stop laughing. This skein is a very accurate metaphor of my life right now. Just when I think things are calming down a strong gust of wind knocks me around and there’s not a thing I can do about it. In my car, alone and driving, I just laughed.

During the drive I kept thinking about these few minutes, observing the skein move from formation to chaos to formation to chaos and back again. Then I realized that the more out of control things have become the more I tried to make them normal through my own intervention. The problem is that my intervention only makes things worse, creating a surge of chaos to which my only response can be is laughter and crying. I’m laying flat on my back, feeling defeated and broken, then the laughter comes.

Why am I laughing? Because I’m a real idiot sometimes. I often forget my own humanity, that I feel and think and do in ways that are imperfect, selfish, and insecure. That’s when it hit me, in the middle of Kansas on I-70, that it’s freeing to be human. I don’t have to worry about being perfect, always saying and doing the right things. All I have to do is just be, struggling with what it means to be an imperfect human being who is beautifully broken and mercifully redeemed. I’m thankful for that. The pressure is off once again and I’m glad.

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