Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Art of Being Still

I have sometimes thought that I had nothing in common with my mother, content to raise her children, keep our tidy house, put food on a maple-wood table. My mother who never heard the call of distant countries or foreign cultures but instead hunkered down and laughed about being an "Okie," though each step she took distinguished her as "other" than what her Oklahoma Dustbowl lineage might define.

In California, she watches the sea from the shore, her feet firmly planted on East Cliff Drive, arms wrapped around her body against the chill of North Pacific breezes. My mother, resigned to working in the same tiny medical office for over 20 years, all the while anticipating a time of rest in retirement. Slowly working her way up a pay scale and growing in the esteem of the doctors whose insurance billing she governs.

I have spent my adult life in a steady progress away from this kind of stillness, always moving, always driving in the direction of the unknown. Driving seaward, lusting for the adventure of ocean swells. Winds of change. Only now, in my 42nd year, the year that for my mother held the wedding of her daughter and the diagnosis of breast cancer, do I begin slowly, slowly, to learn the art of stillness. To know the difference between still and stuck.

I see now the strength in making a choice and carrying it out over time. Being very still and waiting out times that don't measure up. Nurturing hope and indeed action for incremental change, rather than flying to the dramatic: abandoning your post in the face of a picture of life that is incongruous with the picture in your heart.

Looking back over my own story, I consider counting the number of times I have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, fled from a place that was still becoming "home." Created the need to rebuild, start again in a new place under new circumstances.  What has been the draw of utter and complete upheaval? Have I never known moderation?

But there is no point in doing this. No point in trying to imagine what might have grown had I ever had the perseverance, the patience, to nurture something akin to a garden. In fact, I have come to see gardening as the symbol of the kind of rooting of the self that I still don't really know how to want. The kind of rooting of the self that I believe I will evolve to find myself understanding. Even desiring, one day.

In the meantime, I will practice the art of being still in Vermont. Because my children love this place in which I have begun to learn it. It is the place that held up a mirror for me to see my mother's features in my own brown face. Her expression of steadfastness. Her constancy. These endow me with a kind of beauty I did not have before now but which was always in her, though I did not understand its origin. They provide me with an anchor. I drop it here among the carrots and the lettuces. I find comfort in the tautness of its line, as the waves of my life lift me up and away from it. But the line holds. I stay. Still and not stuck.

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