Thursday, April 1, 2010

a story for this silence

Just before this last stretch of silence I spent the day with my very young nephew who lives some hours down river.  I arrived the night before to a quiet house, a few lights on, only his parents and older half-siblings gliding through the kitchen.

In the morning I awoke to music, soft and folksy.  Danny was already awake, padding around amongst his family's knees, small bare feet slapping on the tile.  And then they were all gone - to high school, to a set schedule of mouths full of teeth, to a day of training at the new hospital.

Danny and I sat together reading  - Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham, Gingerbread Boy, Mr Brown Can Moo . . . well-worn words I used to read nearly everyday, even long ago to his own daddy.  Then Danny played, chasing his push toys, clacking blocks together, while I paid my bills. 

We listened to music again and ate sourdough and bananas and cottage cheese.  "Where are your shoes, Danny, so we can go outside?"  He took me to his room.  Not there.  But his blanket was, so we sat in the rocking chair and rocked and hummed to each other.  He popped up pointing - socks!  He brought them to me one by one, lifting each foot for me to put the sock on over his bare toes and then we looked in the closet for his coat and found his shoes there, too.

Outside we walked very carefully down the stairs and back and forth across the walk.  We bent down to touch the shining drops of water on the grass.  We visited the daffodils, bending down to each one and breathing on them.  We walked around and around the big old clump of oak, touching the moss soft, touching the bark rough, then climbing up inside the four or five oaks that have grown up together for a century.  We sat on oaken knees, touching more moss soft, and looking up at the unfurling leaves and bare twigs.  We found sticks to wave in the air.

Danny chased the shadowy six-toed cat MacGregor through the garden and fell, cutting his lip.  One burst of crying, one hug where he rested his head on my shoulder, patting my back as I patted his.  A little while inside the house sipping drops of water off an ice cube held against the swelling lip.  And more stories.  We found squares of sunshine to sit in - book, baby, lap, bright window.  We pulled all the books out and then put them all back in.  We went back outside. 

We walked all around the house.  We walked up and down the stairs twice.  We opened the front door, looked in, stepped back, closed the door, opened it again.  We picked up maple seeds.  We watched the garbage truck come from far down the road, stopping at each of the neighbors' driveways and reaching with its skinny metal hand to chug down the garbage can, setting the cans back on their pavement slightly askew. 

We sat on two rocks just the right size.  The sun shone on our skin and made small sparkles.  The wind moved the leaves of grass. Some birds sang and then stopped.  Every once in a while Danny hopped up to bend down and touch green the fleshy leaves of a nearby bush.  Each time he came back, settling himself onto his rock again, putting his hands on his knees in the bright sunshine.

We walked around the house again. He pointed to the windchime and I lifted him up.  He rang the chimes in a great jangle.  We both laughed.  He rang them again and again, stopping longer and longer to listen to the sound of the chimes unravelling into silence . . .

And that is one story for this stretch of silence.

Another is that this is my favorite week of the year.  Easter week.  The week of emptying toward the empty tomb. 

When fall comes, when snow first falls, I think some other season is my favorite, but really spring is the season I love best above all others.  And Easter is Spring taken to its furthest conclusion. 

When I was small  my parents would hide candy and colored eggs for me to find the day before.  My mother would stay up late sewing me a new dress for Easter morning.  I remember feeling the big bow tied behind my back, hopping from sun-dapple to sun-dapple on the sidewalk.  Easter morning a colored basket full of magical transparent grass would appear and candies in pink and purple foil.  Then we would eat ham and coconut bunny cake for dinner.  But along the way my parents became dissatisfied with ham and chocolate and late nights sewing as a celebration for Easter. 

We fell into a quietness, acknowledging the day, but nothing much more.

And for years I carried on that same quietness.  My own children hunted for eggs to celebrate the first day of spring.  And Easter was a day of quietness.

Little things we began to do have become traditions - the Signs of Spring walk (first dandelion, oak apple, the ceramic coolness of unopened apple blossoms), hiding candy in colored eggs around the 21st of March.

To celebrate spring.

But Easter, coming sometimes after, sometimes before, has grown softly into a quiet and contemplative week.  My husband's favorite holiday, he says.  I think this is better than Christmas, one child said once.  Quietly.  


But it is my favorite, too.  Maybe because the advertisers haven't caught on.  There isn't anything special we have to buy - except a lamb shank, matzos, parsley and radicchio for a very simple passover meal during the week.  And meanwhile the rest of world buzzes around doing the things they usually do while spring grows outside the windows. 

What do I love best about this week?  Sunday to Sunday and spilling over into Monday.

Do you remember in elementary school decorating paper plates - one with curls of white paper as a lamb, one with a yellow fringe for a lion's mane - all to celebrate the month that comes in like one to go out like the other? 

We make Lion & Lamb bread the Sunday before and I think as I make it about Peace.  

Remembering -  as I crush rosemary for remembrance and sprinkle it on the baking sheet sleek with olive oil for consecrated kings -  the crowds of oppressed people who cheered the teacher from Galilee as he rode quietly into the city on a donkey's colt.  How they called out for their coming Prince of Peace.  That desire planted in us all for peace . . . 

Thinking - as I brush the pale unbaked dough with an egg from my sister-in-law's ducks - how great things begin small and unshaped and almost accidental.  How we shape what comes after with how we turn and where we go today.

We've begun inviting a friend or two to eat with us that first Sunday.  Our widowed neighbor brings fern fronds to wave, to decorate the table.  And together we make salad with bright-colored leaves and blue rosemary blossoms and violets from beneath the trees.  We make asparagus risotto, which requires four hands at least, to ladle in broth and asparagus water, to stir the rice constantly, to blend basil, asparagus, parmesan and cream for a velvety green sauce.

The aparagus crowns looks like sceptres, says a child.  Basil is a Greek word for King, someone points out.  Everything smells wonderful together.

For dessert there is orange custard - milk and honey abundance - and eggs new life - and orange zest and fresh-squeezed juice which is for me the fruit of paradise.  Sometimes there is also cinnamon-and-nutmeg scented strawberry-rhubarb pie.  The point is that it is the work of many hands together that brings it all to the table, fragrant and warm, a meal to welcome in a King with all his peaceable kingdom.

That is a good day to begin a week.

Monday then is the cleansing of the temple where we think through the day - what noise and commerce inside myself is offending holiness?  How can I drive it out and make a space there for God's gift? 

Tuesday is a day for telling each other parables - the lost sheep, the prodigal son returned, the watchman, the vineyard, the woman finding a coin and calling all her neighbors together to rejoice.

Wednesday for abiding together like Jesus did with Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus who was raised from the dead.

Thursday is for retelling the stories of deliverance - Moses in the bulrushes, the parting of the Red Sea, the Garden of Gethsemane - as we drink four cups of red grape, before we eat lamb and bitter herbs, flatbread and a spicy mortar-paste of apples and figs.

Friday and Saturday are days of waiting and if weather allows we sleep outside Saturday night.

Sunday morning we rise to sunlight - sometimes clear and bright, sometimes behind a bank of gray clouds - but perceivable light and a new day.  We sit together watching the light grow, singing very quietly songs with words like Rejoice!  Hosanna!  Alleluia!  Fish and honeycomb for a dinner.  A new loaf of bread. The simplest of meals.

And Monday, as the last chimes of the week trail off, unravelling into the ordinary noise, we talk together about carrying this light and quietness forward, how to feed other sheep who are, like ourselves, too often lost in the roar of  - the buzzing business of -  the weight of all that is too much with us.

And that is another story for this stretch of silence.  It is almost the same story.


Mrs. Organic said...

As usual, your words leave me speechless. To live so deliberately, squeezing each drop out of the day is so inspirational.

They are almost the same story. They are.

Lisa B. said...

I have missed you.

When I was leaving--sort of--my home religion, for a few years, I went to mass every week at the beautiful cathedral in my city. And while I now know that Catholicism can't be my home religion either, I appreciated the devotion with which they observed Easter. It opened a new understanding of it for me. It made those days live in a new register.

Thank you for this story of Easter. I love it.

Wonder Phlan said...

One of these years, I want to spend Easter week with you and your family. Because if I ever do have a family, I want to borrow this tradition and make it my'll have to show me how!

Linnea said...

I very much enjoyed living Easter week with your family. Thanks for sharing your traditions with us. It has given me cause to pause and reflect on what traditions I want to keep and what can be done away with. I say out with fighting the crowds of kids for a few plastic, candy-filled eggs and in with the silent celebration!

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